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San Ġiljan, Neptunes set up title showdown

Neptunes captain Niki Lanzon looks to hit in a shot against Sliema during the National League play-off semi-final match at the National Pool. Photo: Wally Galea

Neptunes captain Niki Lanzon looks to hit in a shot against Sliema during the National League play-off semi-final match at the National Pool. Photo: Wally Galea

San Ġiljan managed to pull the strings in the final moments of yesterday’s match to score three times without reply and finally overcome a stubborn Sirens side to book their place in the Premier Division Play-off final. Their opponents are Neptunes who had earlier lowered the colours of Sliema.

San Ġiljan may have been justified when betraying signs of apprehension throughout as play remained balanced until the end against a Sirens side who had inflicted a first defeat on Marko Orlovic’s team after 54 games in midweek.

Sirens appeared to be in control initially as they nosed ahead 3-2 at the end of the first session.

San Ġiljan wasted two numerical advantages and paid the penalty when veteran Edward Aquilina hit a scorcher to make it 4-3 in the second session.

Peter Borg restored equilibrium but still it was difficult to supply inviting balls to the centre for San Ġiljan, with Andreas Galea completely neutralised by Nicolas Bicari covered by Jacob Sciberras’s swim-ups.

So, the champions’ breakthrough was more likely to come from well-drilled shots or acute lobs.

San Ġiljan powerhouse Matthew Zammit opened his account in the third session with a firm drive from distance but Bicari immediately made it 5-5.

Dino Zammit put San Ġiljan ahead for the first time just before the buzzer in the third session.

The excitement reached pitch levels, with Sirens pushing for an equaliser and San Ġiljan threatening to extend their lead.

Sirens equalised twice through Clint Mercieca, in between, Paulo Obradovic completed his hat-trick.

Then came that final joyous breakthrough for San Ġiljan.

Neptunes had the better of Sliema 11-8 in a match in which they gave the Blues a lesson in how to convert goals when enjoying numerical advantage.

In fact, Neptunes scored four out of four, while Sliema, on their part, failed to convert their man-up sets on three occasions from five exclusions.

Neptunes, well-served by their foreigner Petar Muslim, played a pressing game, which gave their opponents no space to manoeuvre with Sliema’s Christian Presciutti shadowed in the process.

Sliema lifted off strongly, taking a 2-0 lead through Michael Spiteri Staines and Jerome Gabarretta before Neptunes grabbed their first two man-up opportunities, courtesy of the deadly Jordan Camilleri and Muslim to level matters.

Camilleri, then, gave his team the lead for the first time, 3-2. Gabriel Pace stretched Neptunes’ advantage but Spiteri Staines replied for the Blues.

Neptunes player Jeremy Abela (no. 9) and Mark Meli battle for the ball. Photo: Mark Zammit CordinaNeptunes player Jeremy Abela (no. 9) and Mark Meli battle for the ball. Photo: Mark Zammit Cordina

Neptunes converted another exclusion through Camilleri before Kai Dowling’s potent shot just beat the 30-second buzzer.

Stevie Camilleri made it four on four (man-ups) before Muslim put Neptunes 7-4 ahead.

Sliema lost their first two-man-ups before Niki Lanzon punished Sliema’s flat-out approach on the counter.

Sliema finally converted their first man-up after change of ends through Jamie Gambin to make it 8-5.

Sergio Afric made a couple of tactical adjustments to strengthen Sliema’s defensive game and it showed when Nicholas Bugelli and Zach Mizzi cut their deficit to 9-7.

Jeremy Abela scooped in from the centre before Neptunes custodian Alan Borg Cole denied Jerome Gabarretta and Presciutti in quick succession.

Dowling and Presciutti were both denied by the goal frame, early in the last session as Muslim punished them further to cut short their comeback despite Mark Meli’s late conversion.

Neptunes Leo Vegas 11
Sliema Frank Salt 8

(5-4, 3-0, 2-3, 1-1)

Neptunes: A. Borg Cole, N. Lanzon 1, K. Erdogan, G. Pace 1, P. Muslim 3, N. Zammit, S. Camilleri 1, J. Camilleri 4, J. Abela 1, M. Zammit, J. Muscat, M. Azzopardi, J. Parnis.

Sliema: J. Sammut, J. Gabarretta 1, C. Presciutti, J. Saliba, M. Meli 1, K. Dowling 1, M. Spiteri Staines 2, D. Fenech, M. Cordina, J. Gambin 1, Z. Mizzi 1, N. Bugelli 1, Z. Sciberras.

Refs: Peter Balzan, Attilio Paoletti.

San Ġiljan Tum Invest 10
Sirens Greentube 7

(2-3, 2-1, 2-1, 4-2)

San Ġiljan: J.Tanti, P. Borg 3, A. Galea, B, Grech, C. Farrugia, M. Zammit 1, B. Plumpton 1, Darren Zammit, T. Said, P. Obradovic 3, P. Fava, Dino Zammit 2, T. Micallef

Sirens: N. Grixti, P. Privitera 2, E. Aquilina 2, N. Bicari 1, M. Grech, I. Riolo, C. Mercieca 2, J. Sciberras, J. Napier, G. Sammut, L. Caruana, J. Brownrigg, G. Galea Curmi,

Refs: Mario Dalli, Frederico Braghini.

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