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Saturday, September 27, 2014


Sunday, 2/2/14 saw Malta's equivalent of a footballing Super Sunday with the headline fixture in the BOV Premier League seeing Valletta taking on Birkirkara in the top of the table clash. First up, however, was the local derby between Mosta Gunners and Naxxar Lions. Both matches took place at the National Stadium, Ta'Qali.
Malta's inhabitants were still clearing up the day after heavy storms battered the island, but Maltese football's very own perfect storm was brewing, and the local derby between Mosta Gunners and Naxxar Lions promised some tempestuous football. The two villages border each other, and around a thousand supporters were present at the National Stadium to watch the game kick off.

Mosta kicked-off the match in fifth place, five points and two places clear of the Lions; it was the penultimate weekend of the first phase of the league season, and, as far as Naxxar were concerned, a win was essential, not only to close the gap on their neighbours, but also to leapfrog Balzan Youths into sixth place and gain a two-point advantage on them going into the final weekend of the first phase. The Gunners, though, were already assured of their place in the second, championship round.

ON DISPLAY: Naxxar Lions banners on the North End of the National Stadium

Naxxar's Raimi Barare had the first attempt on goal after two minutes, but his shot from distance sailed high and wide. The ball went straight down the other end, where Gunners' captain Bojan Kaljevic's effort from a tight angle,coming after some slack defending, hit the side-netting; he had another shot on goal two minutes later from around 20 yards out, but it was meat and drink for goalkeeper Julian Azzopardi. A third effort from Kaljevic in the ninth minute from even further out on the left floated high and to the left of the Naxxar goal.

Lions' midfielder Gilmar da Silva Ribeiro had a go a minute later, though his turn and shot from around 25 yards out was rather scuffed and went well wide; team-mate David Alejandro Reano's free-kick from the right-hand side in the 14th minute fared little better.

Mosta went straight on the attack, and Kaljevic's looping header forced Azzopardi backwards, but the Naxxar custodian got back to stop the ball going over the goal-line. Finding himself unmarked and just 8 yards out from Azzpoardi's goal a minute later, Tyrone Farrugia inexplicably sidefooted wide from a Gunners' corner from the left-hand side. Mosta were the better side at this stage of the game, and Kaljevic was unsetling the opposing defence, but his weak header from 10 yards did not trouble Azzopardi, but Manolito Micallef's shot from outside the penalty-area sent him scuttling to his right; the ball, however, went just past his right-hand post.

 FLAG DAY: Mosta Gunners and Naxxar Lions fans ready themselves before the local derby on 2/2/14

Da Silva Ribeiro was making some good runs from midfield for Naxxar, and he played a part in a move which ultimately saw Andre Rocha da Silva being put through by Angus Buhagiar after 26 minutes, only for his shot to be saved by Mosta 'keeper Omar Borg. Moments after Rocha da Silva's team-mate Ryan Grech was yellow-carded for a knee-high lunge on Rami Bakare, Micallef came close for Mosta when, after breaking from midfield, his shot from some 25 yards out flew over Azzopardi's bar. 

Kaljevic reminded the Lions defence that he was still a threat just after the half-hour when he chested down a through ball, swivelled and let fly from 15 yards out only for Azzopardi to go down to his right and pull off a good save. Bakare himself got his name in the referee's notebook on 36 minutes for a late challenge on Gilmar da Silva Ribeiro. He was quickly followed by his opposite number five, Mark Brincat, after a challenge on da Silva RIbeiro. Da Silva Ribeiro chipped the ball past Azzopardi just seconds later, but the ball to the goalkeeper's right went wide of the mark.

A challenge in the Naxxar penalty-area by Victor Bella on Micallef resulted in a penalty being awarded to the Gunners, though the referee took his time to blow the whistle. Kaljevic put the penalty low to Borg's left to open the scoring for Mosta with just over a minute to go in the first half.

 GOAL ATTEMPT: Bojan Kaljevic's early free-kick flew over the bar, but he would go on to make his mark on the game for Mosta Gunners

There was still time for Lions' Terrence Scerri to receive a yellow-card in first-half injury time for kicking the ball away after a free-kick had been given against his side. As Scerri and the rest of the players from both sides made their way to the dressing-rooms, there was a minor incident in the crowd when a Naxxar fan went to retrieve his camera from on top of the perspex fence; he was hauled down by members of the local constabulary, who were then pelted by plastic beer-glasses. The supporter was eventually able to fetch his camera, and order was restored.

The second half began in the same way as the first half ended, with a second goal from Bojan Kaljevic after 46 minutes, and a right good goal it was, too; Kaljevic received the ball some 25 yards out, and proceeded to slip between two defenders before calmly sidefooting the ball past Borg. 

Kaljevic was a central figure in proceedings, and he received a yellow card five minutes after his and Mosta's second goal for a late challenge on David Alejandro Reano, and shortly after that aimed a tame volley towards Azzopardi after a good cross-field pass from Antonio Carrozza. Naxxar's Rocha da Silva joined Kaljevic in the referee's notebook after a barge on Yuri Messias.

Although Mosta had the upper hand at this juncture, Naxxar were by no means out of it; first Daren Falzon had a shot blocked by a Gunners defender before Rocha da Silva forced Borg into a save.

Kaljevic headed just wide on the hour mark, and was then substituted by Diego Pereira, a good day's work rewarded by a rapturous ovation from the blue-clad faithful. A Lions free-kick was cleared, but only to Victor Bellia, whose half-volley from over 25 yards out only just went the wrong side of the Mosta 'keeper's left-hand post. Tyrone Farrugia then had another chance for Mosta, but his header from a free-kick went wide.

No matter, Mosta got their third after 71 minutes when Pereira netted from three yards out, prodding home a cross from the left-hand side; he ran gleefully towards the Gunners support with shirt in hand, only to be met on the way back on to the pitch by the referee, who had a yellow card in his.
NO WAY THROUGH: A Naxxar Lions attack is thwarted by the Mosta Gunners midfield

There were alarm bells ringing briefly at the other end when there was a scramble in the Mosta penalty-area, which led to the ball pinging about until it fell to Rocha da Silva, who, surrounded by defenders, still managed to turn and fire in a low shot which was saved by Borg at his right-hand post.

Pereira, meanwhile, was taking over from where Kaljevic left off, and he shot over the bar from the edge of the area with just over a quarter of an hour left. A few minutes later, he raced on to a through ball but his shot was blocked and the ball squirmed behind for a corner, which came to naught.

He was not to be denied his second in the 84th minute, however; his shot from the left-hand side of the penalty-area was dropped by Azzopardi, but he latched on to the ball, rounded the prostrate goalkeeper and simply walked the ball into the net.

Gilmar da Silva RIbeiro almost pulled a goal back for the Lions three minutes later, when he headed just over from a free-kick; however, that was to prove his last meaningful action - in a positive sense - for the team in white shirts when he was sent off for dissent just seconds later.

Bellia came close for Naxxar as the game entered injury-time, though his spectacular volley from 25 yards out, after receiving the ball which had been headed clear after a corner, flew just over the bar.

The result may have gone Mosta's way, cementing their position in the championship round, though it was still a fiercely competitive match, and this was evident even after the final whistle when there was a verbal exchange between several players from both teams which led to those involved being separated by their team-mates. It was a slightly flattering scoreline, but the Gunners deserved the spoils, and more than earned the local bragging rights that came with them.

MOSTA GUNNERS: 27 Omar BORG, 22 Tyrone FARRUGIA, 5 Mark BRINCAT, 3 Rodriguez EKANI, 19 Ishmael GRECH, 6 Ryan GRECH, 10 Kurt ZAMMIT, 9 Manolito MICALLEF (C) (20 Ian ZAMMIT), 15 Antonio CARROZZA, 18 Yuri MESSIAS, 11 Bojan KALJEVIC (21 Diego PEREIRA)

SUBSTITUTES (not used): 1 Kurt RIZZO, 13 Alexander CINI, 24 Steve SCHEMBRI, 25 James BRINCAT, 8 Harouna BARA

NAXXAR LIONS: 1 Julian AZZOPARDI, 5 Raimi BAKARI, 6 Victor BELLIA (C), (16 Jurgen DEBONO, 18 FIlip STOJANOVIC), 15 Ryan Gilmour CASSAR (10 Daren FALZON), 14 Gilmar DA SILVA RIBEIRO, 17 Andrew DECESARE, 4 Thiago LOPES DA SILVA, 3 David Alejandro REANO, 19 Andre ROCHA DA SILVA, 99 Terrence SCERRI

SUBSTITUTES (not used): 12 Luke PECORELLA, 11 Duane BONNICI, 2 John DEBONO, 8 Mattia DEL NEGRO
THEN AND NOW: Mosta Gunners went on to finish the first (league) phase, where all twelve teams played each other twice, in fifth place and thus qualified for the championship pool. They eventually finished in fourth place, ending up three points adrift of a place in the 2014-15 Europa League.

Naxxar Lions ended the regular season in seventh place, finishing a point behind Balzan Youths, and were condemned to participating in the relegation pool, where they played extremely poorly, and were lucky to finish the season in tenth place, escaping relegation by virtue of finding themselves just two points ahead of Vittoriosa Stars in eleventh.

So far this season, fortunes for the near-neighbours have been mixed. Mosta Gunners have got off to a cracking start in the 2014-15 BOV Premier League, and are sitting two points behind HIbernians after five games, Hibernians having won all five fixures so far this season.

Mosta's only blemish on their record so far this season came when they drew 1:1 with..Naxxar Lions. The Lions have not begun well, only picking up two points out of five matches played, the other point courtesy of a 1:1 draw against Balzan Youths (more on them to come shortly) on 23/8/14. 

A week earlier, on the opening day of the season, Mosta surprised champions and perennial title favourites Valletta by winning 1:0. They face last year's runners-up Birkirkara, who defeated Naxxar 1:0 earlier in the season, on 28/9/14. Naxxar, meanwhile, face Floriana on 27/9/14 and will hope for a positive result in order to cclimb up the table from the tenth place in which they currenly find themselves.

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