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Saturday, February 14, 2015


Next on the itinerary in Malta was the clash of the table-toppers in the BOV First Division between Gzira United, lying third at the time, and Gudja United, who were ahead of St. Andrew's on goal difference with Gzira United a point behind. The fixture took place on 30/1/15.
The top-of-the-table meeting between Gudja United and Gzira United, held at Ta'Qali's Centenary Stadium, promised much, after all, it promised much as there was a point between the two teams. Gudja were top with 29 points, level on points with St. Andrew's but ahead on goal difference, with the Maroons a point behind in third place.

The fixture may have promised much, but it was a rather turgid affair in the first twenty minutes, with most of the action, such as it was, taking place in the Gzira half. Gudja, especially through Udochukwo Nwoko and Isaac Galea, constantly busied themselves with trying to find a way through their opponents' defence, but United held firm. 

It was certainly not pretty to watch, and the first shot in anger only came after 24 minutes through Joselito Dos Reis Santos dared to have a go from 20 yards out or so after finding himself in enough space to be able to do so, but Anthony Curmi got down to his right to gather with ease.

TOP TEAMS, POOR MATCH: Gudja United (in white) and Gzira United do the needful before their top-of-the-table match at the Centenary Stadium kicks off

Three minutes later, Peter Taiye Oladatun was clearly in an offside position when the ball was played through to him, but he was beaten to the ball some 25 yards out by the sliding Curmi, who could only play the ball out to George Chircop on the right, whose effort, although audacious, went well over the bar. 

It took 32 minutes for a Maroons player to get far enough forward to try their luck, when a curling free-kick from Joselito evaded the Gzira defensive wall but floated just over the bar. A minute later, Ryan Dalli's speculative shot from way out curled just wide of Yenz Cini's goal; Cini still had yet to make a save.

Gudja's Mauro Brincat earned himself a yellow card in the 33rd minute for a high tackle on Joselito after play was called back; following the tackle, the ball came the way of John Nwoba, and his shot went close, but just over the bar. A shot from Dalli from just over 20 yards out was tipped over by Cini with three minutes to go to the break, but that was just about the only thing of note to happen during the remainder of the first half.

Perhaps the best way to sum up the standard of the first half was the collision between Gudja team-mates Nwoko and Joselito when the latter attempted a shot in injury-time; the ball sprang away to safety. It was a rather disjointed first 45 minutes with plenty of long balls, hefty clearances and precious little in the way of creativity from either side, though, to use a boxing metaphor, the team in the white corner were ahead on points. 

Gzira United started the second half with purpose, but veteran defender and ex-Malta international Jamie Pace received a yellow card in the 53rd minute for a foul on Adrian Carabott. It was all rather unnecessary; Pace hit a free-kick straight at Carabott, whom he then proceeded to clumsily upend. Alarm bells sounded in the Gudja defence in the 53rd minute when a corner was headed on by Gabriel Aquilina across to the far post, but Steve Meliak, as free as a bird on the far side, failed to cleanly connect and the ball flew wide.

A Gudja attack resulted in Nwoko receiving a pass from Galea, but he lost his bearings after a last-ditch tackle from Nemanja Milovanovic, and a grateful Curmi gathered the bal inside the six-yard box. On the hour, Joselito then put a free-kick from the edge of the penalty-area high and wide.

The action then switched to the other end of the pitch, and a mistake from Gudja defender Edile Micheletti Awoh allowed John Owoba to latch on to the loose ball, but Cini was awake to the situation and was able to get to the ball just before Owoba. 

Dalli, who was full of endeavour, cut in from the left in the 67th minute after a good pass from Daniel Scerri, beat a defender but was unable to trouble Cini with his shot, which just missed the back of the stanchion.

Gudja had possibilities thereafter: first Adrian Carabott's fiercely-struck cross evaded everybody in the Gzira penalty-area and flashed across the box without anyone getting a touch on it, and then Joselito, having left a Maroons defender in his wake, laid on a cross from the right, to which Peter Oladotun got to but could only direct his header just wide of Curmi's right-hand post.

Joselito fell victim to a barge from Dalli following a headed clearance in the 71st minute, for which referee Esther Azzopardi had no choice but to add Dalli's name to that of Pace in the note-book. Dalli was, yellow card or no, a shining light in an otherwise fairly dreary game, and his cross from the left two minutes after his booking was almost headed into his own net by Ranier Buhagiar; Buhagiar's header brought probably the best save of the game from Cini.

A free-kick from Dalli was merely scrambled clear out to the far side but Nwoba was unable to get a proper touch on the ball. Joselito and substitute Angelo Catania both had speculative shots on goal for Gudja, but neither effort troubled Curmi in the Maroons' goal.

The last real opportunity to break the deadlock came in the 91st minute, when a move involving several Gzira players led to a one-two between Eduardo Ndjodo and Nwoba was thwarted only by a poor return pass from Nwoba, which failed to reach Ndjodo who would otherwise have had a clear shot on goal from the edge of the penalty-area. 

It doesn't say much for the standard of fare on offer when one could consider the referee to be player of the match, but Azzopardi was impervious to the squabbling, both over her decisions and in general, which broke out intermittently, but, apart from Dalli's booking, her officiating was of a high standard. The same could not be said of the linesman on the far side, who might need to consult the rule-book having got more than one offside call wrong.

SCRAMBLE: Gzira United attack Gudja United's goal during the second half

However, the likeliest candidate for player of the match would be Ryan Dalli, who played with enthusiasm and verve for the full ninety minutes, even when Gzira had been pegged back for the first twenty minutes or so. Jamie Pace used his experience to steady the Gzira ship during that period, and both Milovanovic and Daniel Scerri were steady at the back. Joselito was Gudja's star man on this occasion, with Nwoko and Galea also having a good day at the office.

A pont apiece was probably the most that either side deserved from this match, a match the reports of which will not fill too many scrapbooks. Still, it was clear from the start that this was a match that neither side dared to lose and as a result possibly lose ground in the race for promotion. The result was enough to move Gudja a point clear of both Gzira and St. Andrew's, who fell to third on goal difference with their near-neighbours Pembroke Athleta and Melita three points behind them on 26 points. It's tight at the top, and an interesting end of the season is in prospect.

GZIRA UNITED: 1 Anthony CURMI, 5 Nemanja MILOVANOVIC, 6 Daniel SCERRI, 8 Dejan VUKOVIC, 10 Steve MEILAK, 14 Moises AVILA PEREZ, 18 Jamie PACE, 19 Gabriel AQUILINA, 28 John Ogechukwu NWOBA, 29 Eduardo NDJODO, 77 Ryan DALLI

SUBSTITUTES (unused): 7 Justin CAMILLIERE, 9 Paolo DANDOLO, 11 Anthony EWERUN, 25 Frederick TABONE, 31 Dylan AGIUS, 15 Iousef MELI, 96 Matteo CARABOTTI

GUDJA UNITED: 1 Yenz CINI, 15 Clayton GIORDIMAINA, 5 Ranier BUHAGIAR, 6 Edile MICHELETTI Awoh, 11 Isaac GALEA, 4 Mauro BRINCAT (17 Giancarlo SAMMUT), 8 George CHIRCOP, 7 Adrian CARABOTT, 10 Udochukwo NWAKO, 14 JOSELITO Dos Reis Santos, 22 Peter Taiye OLADOTUN (9 Antonio CATANIA)

SUBSTITUTES (unused): 21 Matthew XERXEN, 19 Donato ANTONUCCI, 2 Wade MOODLEY, 17 Ryan CAUCHI, 3 Clint FARRUGIA


AUTHOR'S NOTE: Many thanks as usual go to the MFA match-day staff; the Times of Malta was also consulted in order to compare notes.

UPDATE: At the end of this match, four points separated the top five teams. At the time of writing, this had changed to four points separating the top six, and things have changed somewhat. Gudja fell to a 4:2 defeat in their next match against Rabat Ajax on 8/2/15, whilst Gzira United beat Zurrieq 2:1 a day earlier.

St. Andrew's are currently top with 33 points, Gzira United are second on 32 points with Pembroke Athleta and Gudja United on 30 points. Melita have been joined on 29 points by Fgura United. The next round of matches is scheduled to take place between 20-22/2/15.

A report on Gzira United's Special Needs team will be published in the coming weeks, featuring a great bunch of kids, helpers and parents.

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