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Wednesday, December 31, 2014


The final match of this series of articles hauled from the archives, dating from season 2013-14 in Malta's BOV Premier League, was the second in a double-header which took place at Hamrun's Victor Tedesco Stadium on 8/2/14, and featured the contest between bottom side Rabat Ajax and fourth-place Sliema Wanderers.
With the excitement of the first match of the double-header, between Valletta and Balzan Youths, out of the way, the day's schedule at the Victor Tedesco Stadium in Hamrun was concluded with a match between Rabat Ajax and Sliema Wanderers, and neither team had very much to play for. This was perhaps reflected in the small crowd, just over 860 strong, that had gathered to view proceedings.

Ajax had been enduring a miserable season before the match kicked off; they had won just the one match out of twenty, and drawn three, and were nine points adrift of eleventh-placed Qormi. Sliema Wanderers were in fourth place and already qualified for the championship section.

MOVING IN: Malcolm Licari (Rabat Ajax) and Matias Muchardi (Sliema Wanderers) move in on the ball; Blues' captain Alex Muscat is in close proximity

It was all Sliema for the first ten minutes or so, and, with the exception of a few runs from Diego Carrillo Pendas, Rabat rarely ventured over the halfway line. Wanderers had the first decent chance after 10 minutes, though Admir Vladavic's effort from just inside the penalty-area went just wide. Stefano Biancardi's low header was palmed away by Rabat 'keeper Pavle Veilimirovic onto the crossbar and behind in the 18th minute, before Rabat finally had an effort on goal courtesy of Malcolm Licari, but his overhead-kick from 15 yards was tame and easily saved by Glenn Zammit.

It was an untidy first half with few real chances to speak of, and most of those that were created came mostly from the Blues. Vladavic blasted over the bar from 20-plus yards out in the 25th minute, and Matias Muchardi's angled effort four minutes later went across goal and wide. Jacob Borg then went on a run down the left, and teased in a ball towards Ivan Woods, but the veteran was just beaten to it by Velimirovic. There was a bit of pinball action in the Rabat area with seven minutes of the first half left, but when the ball came to Alex Muscat 18 yards out, the Sliema defender blasted over the bar.

Although Sliema had more of the possession in the first half, their general display was somewhat lacklustre and they paid the price in the 40th minute. A Sorin Virgil Oproiescu cross from the right was somehow missed by team-mate Licari, but not by Carrillo Pendas, who dummied two defenders and blasted the ball high into the net from 15 yards out to give Rabat a not altogether unmerited lead. 

The Magpies had shown much more purpose in the first half than had Sliema, and had dealt fairly easily with everything that their opponents had thrown at them. Woods had three attempts on goal before the end of the first half, but none of them were enough to bring the Blues level before the half-time whistle sounded.

SPOT THE BALL: Rabat Ajax under pressure as the ball goes out for a Sliema Wanderers' corner

Sliema had grounds for complaint four minutes after half-time when Trevor Cilia was pulled back in the Magpies' penalty-area, but the referee let play continue. Sliema were becoming increasingly dangerous, forcing Rabat Ajax to rely on the counter-attack, and Matias Muchardi's long-range drive was put behind by Velimirovic who hurt himself in doing so, but was able to resume goalkeeping duties after a lengthy delay.

The bottom side almost doubled their advantage on the hour, when Micallef danced his way from midfield through the Blues' defence, and his shot from 20 yards out beat Zammit but struck the outside of the post. A little period of pressure on Zammit's goal followed, with Micallef's shot from the edge of the area went high and wide. 

A couple of minutes later, Licari had the ball in the Sliema net, but referee Glenn Tonna ruled the goal out after adjudging that Zammit had been fouled; there was a slight nudge on the Sliema goalie, who then dropped the ball. You've seen them given..

Life slowly returned to Wanderers, and a cross from Cilia was headed wide by Stanley Ohawuchi. A little later, in the 70th minute, they equalised, much to the relief of those present with a blue heart. Ivan Woods cut in and passed to Muchardi from the left-hand side of the penalty-area, and he made no mistake from around 15 yards out, drilling a low shot with the outside of his right foot, first-time, past Velimirovic and into the bottom left-hand corner.

Carrillo Pendas was excelling for Rabat, as was Woods for the Blues, and his effort in the 82nd minute, following a move which had Ohawuchi and substitute Axl Xuereb at its heart, brought out the best in Velimirovic, who flew high to the left to palm Woods' curling shot over the bar.

Woods took the resulting corner, which went out to Ohawuchi on the left-hand side of the box. The Nigerian dummied Dylan Falzon before shooting through the legs of Shawn Gauci from 8 yards; it seemed to take an eternity for the ball to trundle across goal, through a confounded defence and past the wrongfooted Velimirovic before nudging the inside of the far post and crossing the line, but cross the line it did and Sliema were in front.

 MIDFIELD ACTION: Sliema Wanderers' Stanley Ohawuchi and Matias Muchardi, together with Rabat Ajax's Jonathan Bajada and David Azzopardi (just entering the picture), give chase

Ohawuchi's goal was the culmination of a good twenty minutes from Wanderers, which was probably their best spell of the match, and Xuereb and Muscat both had chances to make the game safe during the last five minutes of normal time,but Xuereb's shot was blocked by a defender, whilst Muscat's angled effort went into Velimirovic's midriff.

Five minutes of injury-time followed at referee Tristin Farugia Cann's discretion, and although the Magpies huffed and puffed, they could not really prise their way through a now clam-tight defence to gain a deserved point. Instead, all three points went to Sliema Wanderers, though no-one could doubt that they had earned them the hard way.

RABAT AJAX: 12 Pavle VELIMIROVIC, 4 Ivan CARAPIC, 5 Joseph CARUANA, 6 Shaun GAUCI, 7 Diego CARRILLO PENDAS, 8 Sorin Virgil OPROIESCU (22 Chris VELLA), 9 Malcolm LICARI, 11 Jonathan BAJADA, 13 Dylan FALZON, 18 Ryan MICALLEF (2 Darren BORG), 21 David AZZOPARDI

SUBSTITUTES (unused): 1 Jonathan AZZOPARDI (GK), 3 Zachary TANTI, 15 Stefan CORTIS, 16 Etienne SCICLUNA, 17 Patrick BORG

SLIEMA WANDERERS: 12 Glenn ZAMMIT, 2 Alex MUSCAT, 4 Jacob BORG, 10 Stanley OHAWUCHI, 13 Clifford GATT BALDACCHINO, 14 Ivan WOODS (6 Kane FARRUGIA), 16 Trevor CILIA, 25 Matias MUCHARDI, 28 Beppe MUSCAT (9 Axl XUEREB), 33 Stefano BIANCIARDI, 99 Admir VLADAVIC

SUBSTITUTES (unused): 1 Henry BONELLO (GK), 3 Clive PSAILA, 11 Alex PODDA, 17 Liam CACHIA, 18 Gabriel AQUILINA
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Many thanks to the MFA matchday staff on duty; some of the above information was cross-checked against the website.

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