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Tuesday, February 24, 2015


The second in a double-header of matches (which took place on 31/1/15) in Malta's BOV Third Division saw Luqa St. Andrew's take on Marsaskala at the Luxol Stadium in Pembroke.
A sparse crowd assembled at the Luxor Stadium for the match between Luqa St. Andrew's and Marsaskala, a fixture featuring teams in the bottom half of the BOV Third Division with differing levels of football tradition. Luqa, a club founded in 1934, reached the top flight in 1948 for first and only time, but were relegated three years later and have never been back since. The club has won the Third Division (or its equivalent) twice in its history, the most recent championship coming their way in 2011. They were relegated from the Second Division at the end of the next season, and have been in the lower reaches of the bottom division since then.

Marsaskala, on the other hand, were only formed in 2010; they finished the following season, the club's first in Maltese football, in penultimate position and the 2011-12 season in ninth. They surprised everybody by finishing the 2012-13 season in third position, which was enough to ensure their promotion to the Second Division in only the club's third season in the League pyramid. However, they were relegated at the end of last season, finishing just a point behind eleventh-placed Siggiewi.

UNDER ATTACK: The Luqa SA defence under pressure from Marsaskala early in the first half

So far this season, both clubs have failed to make an impact, with Marsaskala hovering around mid-table and Luqa third from bottom before kick-off. The first ten minutes of the game were positive in spite of a scarcity of shots, with both sides approaching the situation in a positive manner. The first shot came in the 8th minute, with Marsaskala captain Justin Zammit trying his luck from distance, but his shot left Luqa 'keeper Paul Psaila untroubled.

He was rather more disquietened by Denis Sytnik's free-kick from just outside the box three minutes, however; Psaila was well beaten by the Ukrainian's shot, but it thumped off the underside of the bar and was cleared. He got to another effort from Sytnik a few minutes later, but the shot was rather weak and was saved in almost slow-motion fashion.

In the 21st minute, Sytnik burst into the penalty-area on the left, only to be pulled back by William Mallia; a penalty was the only outcome. Sytnik took the kick himself, and calmly struck the ball into the bottom left-hand corner, sending Psaila the wrong way to put the team in orange 1:0 up.

After Marskala's Luca Nagiah received a yellow card a minute later for fouling Nikolai Slavtchev, Luqa went on the offensive, and Lydon Sciberras had their first real shot, almost capitalising on a frail fist-out from Marsaskala 'keeper Keith Dimech, but his prodded effort from 15 yards out rolled harmlessly wide. Luqa almost drew level on the half-hour, when Juan Gatt was put through, but Dimech came out and saved his shot; however, the rebound came to Malcolm Coleiro who sent his shot from the edge of the area goalbound, but Marsaskala captain Justin Zammit had retreated to cover Dimech and was able to clear the ball off the line.

Luqa kept coming forward, and William Mallia escaped down the right and fired in a cross which reached Sciberras on the far side, who in turned sent over a somewhat more dangerous cross-shot which looped away across the penalty-area and behind to safety.

Moments later, Luqa's momentum came to a shuddering halt when Stefan Micallef received a straight red after a crunching tackle which left his opponent momentarily prone. Team-mate Gordon Failla earned himself a yellow card for dissent; all of this was too much for Luqa manager Nikolai Slavtchev, who lodged his own protest and was invited to watch the remainder of the match from the stand at the referee's behest.

They quickly regained their composure, and Jason Good's free-kick from a central position around 20 yards out was just inches over Dimech's bar. This was followed by Marsaskala working their way up the field, and a good ball from Steve Buhagiar on the left reached Sytnik, who beat a defender but was prevented from doing any damage by a terrific last-ditch tackle from Good.

Luqa dominated the rest of the first-half, and as the first-half rolled into injury-time, Slavtchev (the player) crossed from the left, but the cross was met by Zammit, who could only head it out to Mallia, who was 8 yards out and in perfect solitude. Mallia then contrived to volley the ball wide with the goal at his mercy. The last action of the first half was also in front of the Marsaskala goal, when an admittedly poor ball from Gatt on the left-hand side was allowed to trundle on by a ball-watching Marjos Muscat, who dithered enough to allow Sciberras the opportunity to shoot; Sciberras did so, but sent the ball wide of Dimech's right-hand post.

CELEBRATIONS AND REMONSTRATIONS: Marsaskala players celebrate Denis Sytnik's second goal whilst Luqa SA players protest

Marsaskala went in a goal to the good, but for all their endeavour on both wings, it was still Luqa with their more direct style who were looking the more likely to score a hatful, and they began the second-half on the attack. In the first minute of the second half, some pinball-style action in the Marsaskala box following a free-kick was put to an end by Slavtchev, who executed an overhead-kick from just behind the penalty-spot, only for Dimech to save easily.

In the midst of all the pressure from Luqa, Marsaskala broke out of defence in the 48th minute and the ball came through to Sytnik, who gently chipped Paul Psaila from the edge of the area and sent the ball into the far corner of the Luqa net to double his team's advantage, much to the annoyance of the Luqa team, who protested that there had been a foul in the build-up; it couldn't have been offside as Sytnik was clearly onside when he received the ball.

Luqa almost got a goal back five minutes later, when Coleiro was put through with the defence static; the same could not be said of Dimech, who flew out of his goal to clear the ball upfield. Next, Gordon Failla's free-kick was caught in the wind, and this almost caught the Marsaskala custodian off-guard, but he got back in time to tip the ball over the bar. Some good work on the left by Slavtchev was matched by his cross, which missed both Gatt and substitute Wayne Bussutil, but not Mallia; however, he scuffed his shot and another good opportunity was wasted.

When a team misses so many opportunities, there is always the danger that they will be punished for their profligacy, and Luqa were made to pay for theirs once again in the 66th minute, though they had chances enough to prevent a goal being scored against them.

A Marsaskala attack resulted in the ball being fed to Buhagiar, who was making a nuisance of himself out on the right, and he passed inside to Sytnik, who turned and shot, albeit weakly, at Psaila's goal; the shot bobbled in front of Psaila, who still managed to get something on it and direct the ball onto the post. 

The rebound came back to Buhagiar, who steered the ball once again towards goal, but a scramble ensued in the Luqa box and, with their defence failing to clear, the ball rolled to Sytnik and his shot, again something of a scuff, beat Psaila at his left-hand post. Not pretty, but pretty effective; Sytnik had his hat-trick and Luqa, with more than 20 minutes of the match to go, were subdued.

GIVING CHASE: A ball from midfield seeks out Marsaskala's Claudio Pace

Marsaskala broke clear once more in the 70th minute when Buhagiar received the ball at the edge of the area and proceeded to round Psaila; as he was about to shoot, he was barged off the ball. Claudio Pace then got to the ball just ahead of a Luqa defender, but he was the victim of a desperate tackle and, with the ball eventually rolling away to safety, both he and Buhagiar were prone.

Mallia had the chance to give Luqa a glimmer of hope in the 74th minute when he found himself surrounded by nothing but air at a corner-kick; despite being unmolested, he could still do no more than head the ball over the bar from four yards out.

Former Dynamo Kiev academy man Sytnik was looking for his fourth, and Buhagiar's pass with 12 minutes to go gave him the chance to get it, but his run and attempted shot were thwarted by Psaila who had come some 10 yards out of goal to block him on the right-hand side of the penalty-area.

Miguel Farrugia Spiteri then had a couple of shots on Psaila's goal; the first was blocked by Psaila who was way out of his goal, and the second effort sailed over the bar with six minutes left, which was the cue for Marsaskala manager Vesko Petrovic to substitute Dennis Sytnik, who earned a huge ovation from the small contingent of Marsaskala supporters, with Joseph Ononuju. (Petrovic had actually named himself amongst the substitutes.)

POINTS IN THE BAG: The Marsaskala squad applaud their supporters after their 4:0 win against Luqa SA

With two minutes of normal time left, Farrugia Spiteri was the recipient of a ball played in from the left and, collecting the ball some eight yards out on the right-hand side of the penalty-area, took the ball on a circuitous route past a defender and squeezed the ball past Psaila at the near post for Marsaskala's fourth of the match.

It was a very effective performance by Marsaskala, who should be largely thankful to Sytnik and Buhagiar for the win, though Claudio Pace looked lively throughout and Justin Zammit was effective at the back. Luqa SA, however, have had a difficult season and their inability to convert their chances, plus possessing a frail defence, does not bode well for the remainder of the season. 

Having Micallef sent off just past the half-hour mark obviously did not help matters, but the forward line kept plugging away. Good, Sciberras, Gatt, Mallia and Coleiro put good shifts in for their team, but for little reward as the points, and the match-ball, headed back to Marsaskala.

LUQA SA: Paul PSAILA, 16 WIlliam MALLIA, 5 Wayne CUSCHIERI, 22 Nikol FALZON (11 Keith GRIMA), 34 Nikolai SLAVTCHEV, 10 Gordon FAILLA, 15 Stefan MICALLEF, 14 Jason GOOD, 7 Lydon SCIBERRAS (2 Terrence CASSAR), 9 Juan GATT (17 Wayne BUSUTTIL), 18 Malcolm COLEIRO

SUBSTITUTES (unused): 8 Ian MUSCAT, 4 Brandon GALEA, 3 Ayrton PSAILA, 6 Samba CAMARA

MARSASKALA: 1 Keith DIMECH, 2 John Louis SAMMUT, 7 Justin ZAMMIT, 3 Marjos MUSCAT, 4 ALexander CAUCHI, 6 Miguel FARRUGIA SPITERI, 10 Steve BUHAGIAR (23 Adrian FARRUGIA), 14 Mark SPITERI, 8 Luca NAGIAH (11 Luca Lorenzo CALLUS RANDICH), 9 Claudio PACE, 21 Denis SYTNIK (5 Joseph ONONUJU Jnr.)

SUBSTITUTES (unused): 18 Matthew SCERRI, 22 Vesko PETROVIC
UPDATE: Both teams' bumpy seasons have shown no real sign of improvement since the above match was played, and although Luqa SA defeated Ta'Xbiex 1:0 on 8/2/15, they lost 2:1 to Mgarr United on 21/2/15. Marsaskala lost 2:0 to Santa Lucija on 8/2/15, and drew 2:2 with the once-mighty Marsaxlokk on 21/2/15.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Many thanks go to the MFA matchday staff, to Joe the gate-keeper and the friendly (female) Marsaskala supporter for their assistance. Thanks, too, go to the Marsaskala staff and Steve Borg, unofficial media rep for the club. As ever, any errors/omissions are the author's own.

The happiest person at the game was probably John, the Marsaskala kit-man; not only had he the three points to celebrate, but his birthday was a few days before the match and he had also just become a grandfather for the first time. The above piece, such as it is, is dedicated to him. (Thanks for the cake; it was very nice indeed!)

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