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Saturday, April 19, 2014


San Gwann and Mdina Knights are not two teams which are well-known to football fans outside Malta, but their BOV Second Division match, played at the Luxol St. Andrews Stadium on 31/1/14, was the first in a veritable mælstrom of matches during a visit to Malta which straddled January and February.

Five days before, San Gwann, who were challenging for promotion, gained a hard-earned 3:2 win against Mqabba Hajduks, who were in the Premier League just a few years ago. The same day, Mdina Kinghts, who were bumping along at the bottom of the table, lost by the same score to Siggiewi.
A cool evening, interspersed with showers, formed the backdrop to the start of the Bank of Valletta Second Division match between Mdina Kinghts and San Gwann at the Luxol St. Andrews Stadium in Pembroke on 31/1/14. It was not a night for coming out to watch a football match, but if your correspondent decided to brave the elements, around sixty other souls joined him.

San Gwann, as expected, set about pressurising the Kinghts' defence, and saw a claim for handball in the opposition penalty-area waved away as early as the third minute. The Yellows' Josef Cutatar and Nikolai Muscat were constantly probing for a way through the Mdina defence for most of the first fifteen minutes, though Ayrton Buhagiar provided a moment of worry for San Gwann with a dangerous cross from the right after 10 minutes which eluded everybody and swung just wide of the far post. 

His goalkeeper, Mark Aquilana, did well to claw away an inswinging cross from Wallace Oliveira Santos, but could do nothing to prevent Muscat from volleying in the game's opening goal from 10 yards out on 16 minutes after a cross from Alan Borg on the right-hand side; Aquilana joined his more than static defence in watching Muscat's volley fly into the top left-hand corner. 

Oliveira Santos was proving himself to be a one-man awkward-squad for the Knights' defence in the first half, and was firing shots in from all angles in the minutes following his side's opening goal; meanwhile, there was an entertaining battle of wits developing between his team-mate Cutatar and Knights' defender Daniel Cremona, which was to last until Cutatar's substitution in the 67th minute.

UNDER WAY: San Gwann (in yellow) take on Mdina Kinghts (black shirts) at Pembroke

Mdina were finding it difficult to gain a foothold in the match, but a cross from Andrea Muscat just evaded Cachel Vella in the 24th minute. Muscat and Emilio Cornago San Pedro were beavering away on the left-hand side of attack for the Knights, but to no avail. The San Gwann defence were looking very comfortable indeed, and a move on the half-hour, involving several of their team-mates further up the pitch, ended with Nikolai Muscat's 20-yard effort trundling wide of Aquilina's right-hand post.

Aquilina's involvement in the proceedings came to an early end in the 41st minute when he was clattered by Micallef when going for a cross from Kurt Zahra, and ended up going off with a shoulder injury after being prone for some time; Wallace Galea entered the fray in place of the hapless Aquilina.

Mark Saliba's half-volley from 20 yards flew just past the junction of post and crossbar of Galea's goal three minutes after he made his entrance, but the linesman's flag had been raised for offside. The last action of the first half came in the first minute of injury time, when a free-kick was given to Mdina after a foul, followed by the proverbial handbags, on Ayrton Buhagiar by Kurt Zahra; Buhagiar's resulting free-kickhit the Yellows' defensive wall and ricocheted away to safety.

The second half began tentatively, but San Gwann were soon back in their stride, with Mark Attard marshalling the defence with aplomb; up front, Zahra tried his luck from long-distance, but his shot was blocked. He followed that up shortly afterwards with a snap-shot from the left-hand side of the Mdina penalty-area which flashed just wide.

The San Gwann onslaught continued unabated, and Glenn Fenech headed home on the hour from a corner on the right-hand side, but he was deemed to have committed a foul. Four minutes later, San Gwann's lead was doubled when Josef Cutatar delivered a thumping header, again coming from a corner on the right, which gave Galea no chance.

The Knights were finding it hard to create chances of their own, Buhagiar's free-kick from 25 yards out which hit the wall and was cleared being the nearest thing to a shot on goal for the team in black during that period of the game.

San Gwann continued to press, and, in the 72nd minute, Borg and Toriano Singleton combined to fashion a move which resulted in Peter Xuereb's shot blocked by a defender; Singleton himself was heavily involved in the the search for goals in next couple of minutes. First, his shot following a jinking run from Xuereb was saved by Galea at the second attempt; then, Nikolai Muscat's volley across the face of the Mdina goal just eluded him at the left-hand post.

The same fate befell Xuereb four minutes later from a Xuereb cross, before Mdina finally had a shot on goal worthy of the name; Mark Cremona's shot from just outside the box beat Carbonara in the San Gwann goal but scuttled just past the right-hand post.

Two yellow cards for Mdina's Cachel Vella and Daniel Cremona came either side of a Xuereb shot being charged down by their defensive comrades, but it was a sign, belated as it was, that Mdina were not going to go down without a fight.

The Knights broke forward in the 86th minute, and a cross from the right-hand side caused panic in the San Gwann defence, but after an acrobatic swipe at the ball by Cachel Vella which missed completely, the ball was eventually cleared downfield.

They began to press, and two minutes later, in the 88th minute, were awarded a penalty when Marco Mercieca fouled Cornago San Pedro; there should have been no argument as Mercieca upended his opponent, but the defender said his piece and received a yellow card for his pains.

Ayrton Buhagiar sent the resulting penalty high to Galea's right, and, almost from nowhere, the Knights were back in the game, but were unable to pressurise the Yellows' goal for any considerable period of time. Instead, San Gwann were still the team looking the more likely to score, and Singleton was fouled by Nicholas Micallef, who was then booked. The resulting free-kick, taken by Kurt Zahra from some 20 yards out, flicked off the wall and over the bar.

In the 92nd minute, Singleton had the chance to put the game beyond any doubt when he evaded the Mdina defence, chipped the ball over Galea but also over the bar. The Knights then went upfield to attempt to salvage what would have seemed, just ten minutes previously, a most improbable point, and won a corner. 

The entire Knights' team, Gilbert Camilleri excluded, was in and around the San Gwann penalty-area, and more panic ensued in the Yellows' 18-yard box, but the ball was eventually cleared and San Gwann could breathe again. 

There was a slight verbal altercation on the pitch after the game in which a couple of players from both sides were involved, but the referee and the two policemen on duty soon put a stop to that. A slightly tempestuous end to game that had quite simply meandered along for 88 minutes, with San Gwann more than worthy winners. Events the next day would prove more tempestuous, in more ways than one..

MDINA KNIGHTS: 1 Mark AQUILINA (25 Wallace GALEA); 4 Giulio SAMMUT; 5 Gilbert CAMILLERI; 6 Mark SALIBA (20 Mark CREMONA); 7 Nicholas MICALLEF; 9 Cachel VELLA: 10 Ayrton BUHAGIAR; 11 Emilio CORNAGO SAN PEDRO (15 Stephen PLACE); 13 Andrea MUSCAT; 16 Kurt FARRUGIA; 19 Daniel CREMONA


SAN GWANN: 1 Claude CARBONARA; 5 Mark ATTARD; 6 Kurt ZAHRA; 7 Wallace OLIVEIRA SANTOS (11 Toriano SINGLETON); 9 Joseph CUTATAR (2 Glenn AGIUS); 10 Alan BORG; 14 Nikolai MUSCAT; 15 Zach BOWMAN; 17 Glenn FENECH; 19 Marco MERCIECA; 20 Christopher CUSCHIERI (8 Peter XUEREB)  

AUTHOR'S NOTE: Many thanks to the gatekeeper and match-day staff at the Luxol St. Andrew's Stadium for their kindness in providing the line-ups.

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