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Saturday, February 21, 2015


Two matches at the bottom of Malta's BOV Third Division took place at Pembroke's Luxol Stadium on 31/1/15, the first of which involved Mdina Knigts, who of course were featured on this blog last year during the previous sojourn to Malta, and bottom of the table Ta'Xbiex, the newest League club in the archipelago. Pat's Football Blog was there to view proceedings.
One year ago exactly, on 31/1/14, Pat's Football Blog covered a match in Malta's BOV Second Division between San Gwann and Mdina Knights, which was won 2:1 by the former. How times have changed. San Gwann finished last season three points from promotion after losing two of their last three matches, but are now two points clear of Hamrun Spartans at the top of the Second Division. Mdina Knights were relegated at the end of a dismal season, eventually finishing bottom of the pile with just ten points, some eighteen points from safety.

Now, the Knights, founded in 2006, were due to take on Ta'Xbiex SC, the newest club in the League system, which was formed in 2012. Football has been played by teams from Ta'Xbiex, one of Malta's smallest communities, since 1953, but Ta'Xbiex FC, predecessors of the modern club, were formed in 1975 and rose to the third level in 1978. Sadly, after dropping back down to the bottom level shortly afterward, they experienced more lows than highs, and, after finishing bottom on a number of occasions and having to apply for re-election on a number of occasions, they were finally jettisoned from the Maltese League during the first decade of this century.

Ta'Xbiex SC finished bottom at the end of their first season in Maltese football, 2012-13, and third from bottom last year. This season, they are currently bottom, but, apart from a couple of thrashings by joint leaders Kirkop United, have lost the majority of their matches by the odd goal. Whilst Ta'Xbiex had only won one match this season (against Qrendi) before this match, Mdina Kinghts have dropped like a stone, winning two matches so far during this campaign and are the division's draw specialists, having drawn seven games before this fixture kicked-off.

 LINING-UP: Mdina Knights (in red) and Ta'Xbiex SC line up prior to their match at the Luxol Stadium in Pembroke on 31/1/15

The two teams had drawn 0:0 earlier in the season, and the first twenty minutes of this match did not suggest that it would be raining goals here, either, despite the best efforts of Mdina's Mark Saliba and Ta'Xbiex's Adrian Dominicus, who were by far the most creative players on show during that period. Mdina dominated possession but were unable to profit from this.

The first real sniff of a chance came in the 19th minute, with a three-man move involving himself, Andrew Xuereb and Christian Wismayer, only just breaking down thanks to an interception by Gilbert Camillieri, who got in the way of an attempted through-ball from Wismayer to Xuereb. It was Wismayer who had the first shot on goal five minutes later, but his hook-shot from distance was saved comfortably enough by Knights' goalkeeper Mark Sciberras.

A Xuereb free-kick from some 25 yards out bent around the Mdina defensive wall, but was deflected away for a corner. Nicholas Scicluna then had a couple of efforts on goal for Ta'Xbiex, the first of which came in the 28th minute when he found himself in space, but a horrible bobble caused him to shoot well wide; this was followed by another shot which went well over Sciberras' goal.

The course of the match changed utterly in the 31st minute, when Saliba fouled Dominicus in a crude fashion; the Ta'Xbiex player reacted by putting his face in that of his opponent, but if contact was made, it was minimal. However, Saliba dropped to the ground as though Dominicus had shoved a bin-lid full into his face, and, amidst angry scenes on the Mdina bench which resulted in an intervention by members of the local constabulary, the Sri Lankan, who had been one of the best players on the pitch, was shown the red card.

 LET'S ALL DO THE HUDDLE: Ta'Xbiex SC players have a get-together before kick-off

Ta'Xbiex refused to buckle, and Xuereb received a yellow card for a high tackle on Dalton Caruana. On 38 minutes, Mdina finally had a real chance to take the lead when, following a corner on the left, Matthias Micallef chested the ball down at the edge of the six-yard box, but his shot was well beaten away by Allister Buzzina. As half-time approached, Andrew Darmanin had one last chance before the interval to put the team in the hooped shirts ahead, but his shot from the edge of the penalty-area went wide of Sciberras' left-hand post.

The second half began with Mdina in the ascendancy but without Saliba who flagged badly towards the end of the first half and who had been substituted at half-time; two minutes after the restart, Cachel Vella's header from way out was caught by the wind, bounced in front of Buzzina, but the 'keeper was able to get back in time to tip the ball over the bar. A scramble followed the corner-kick, which led to Buzzina being fouled whilst prone, with the ball in his hands, and Vella being yellow-carded for the transgression.

Mdina kept up the pressure, and Luiz Fernando Doretto had perhaps grounds to claim for a penalty in the 56th minute when he was hauled back by a defender, but stayed upright as the ball ran out of play. An inswinging corner by the same player two minutes later was headed off the line by Keith Borg, and moments later, a neat team move saw Vella in space on the right-hand side of the area, but he failed to control the ball, which went behind for a goal-kick.

Vella's team-mate Kurt Farrugia was harshly booked for handball not long after, when it appeared that the ball hit his hand. A brief moment of respite followed for Ta'Xbiex, when Xuereb worked himself into space around 20 yards from Scibberas' goal; the shot that followed went well over the bar.

Another inswinging corner from Doretto in the 65th minute struck the far post; the rebound came to Adrian Galea on the edge of the area, but his shot was well off target. Vella was next to have a go, and went on a run down the left, leaving two defenders scrambling after him, but his angled shot from 15 yards out was more than equalled by a fine save from Buzzina, who stylishly palmed the ball over the bar.

Buzzina caused problems for his own defence as the game entered the last quarter of an hour; he flapped at a high ball which came to Adrian Galea, whose shot was blocked. The rebound fell to Adrian Gatt, but the substitute failed to connect properly and the ball was eventually cleared.

The second dismissal occurred as Ta'Xbiex attempted to counter-attack; Wismayer was in possession when he was tackled from behind by Gilbert Camilleri. It was Camilleri's second yellow card of the match, and it was now 10-a-side with 15 minutes still to play.

Wismayer was put clear with 78 minutes on the clock, a clever pass from Yaya Turay finding him on the right; Wismayer attempted to chip Sciberras from more than 20 yards out, but his effort ended up in the grateful 'keeper's arms when going forward with the ball would have been a better option.

Three minutes later, the deadlock was broken when, after some intricate passing, Mdina's Xuereb received the ball at the right-hand angle of the penalty-area following a free-kick. He had time to steady himself before curling a lovely shot low to Buzzina's right.

 PLAN OF ATTACK: Mdina Knights players discuss their options at a free-kick

Ta'Xbiex pressurised the Mdina defence, but the action moved down the other end when Xuereb scuffed his shot with two minutes left, and then, as the game went into injury-time, Vella headed against the bar and Xuereb somehow managed to head the ball wide from point-blank range. He had time to scuff another shot just wide of Bezzina's right-hand post, before Ta'Xbiex embarked on a final quest to rescue something from the game.

Wismayer's 92nd-minute corner-kick was headed on towards the far post, and Turay flung himself at the ball some three yards from goal, but the ball basically flumped just wide with Sciberras and the Knights' defence at sixes and sevens, and the chance was gone.

So, it was another game lost by the odd goal as far as Ta'Xbiex were concerned, though they were perhaps a litle unlucky not to come away with something due to their determined defending. Perhaps their luck will change during the remainder of the season; they do, however, need to do a little more work on their finishing, but they are certainly not far below the standard of the majority of the teams in their division. There is hope for them, still.

They missed the creativity of Dominicus following his sending-off, but Wasmayer, Nicholas Scicluna and Jason Woodhead did their best to keep things moving. Mark Saliba was probably the best player for Mdina in the first-half, but Doretto was dangerous throughout the second-half, with Caruana and Farrugia especially competent in defence.

A much-needed victory for Mdina Knights, then; it was just their third of the season, and it says much about their slight lack of potency up front - and their at times uneven defending - that they have drawn seven of their matches so far this season. There is some potential there, but they have not had the best season-and-a-half and will need to make improvements somewhere along the line.

MDINA KNIGHTS: 1 Mark SCIBBERAS, 5 Gilbert CAMILLERI, 13 Daniel CLUETT (10 Adrian GATT), 16 Dalton CARUANA, 19 Kurt FARRUGIA, 6 Mark SALIBA (4 Andrew CARUANA), 18 Matthias MICALLEF (2 Clint CARUANA), 8 Adrian GALEA, 21 Eric SCIBBERAS, 9 Cachel VELLA, 11 Luiz Fernando DORETTO

SUBSTITUTES (unused): 12 Anthony MICALLEF, 20 Daniel DEBONO, 17 Vaughan BARNES, 15 John CACHIA

TA'XBIEX SC:1 Allister BUZZINA, 11 Andrew DARMANIN, 91 Joel FELICE (19 Nicholas ABELA), 2 Miguel AGIUS, 15 Keith BORG, 8 Nicholas SCICLUNA, 4 Andrew XUEREB, 94 Yaya TURAY, 23 Christian WISMAYER, 71 Adrian DOMINICUS, 20 Jason WOODHEAD (21 Owen VASSALLO)

SUBSTITUTES (unused): 18 Andrew ZARB,16 Kevin AZZOPARDI, 17 Steve AXISA, 32 Neil CASSAR
UPDATE: Mdina Knights bagged themselves yet another draw on 8/2/15; this time, it was a 2:2 draw against Mgarr United. The next game brought more misfortune for Ta'Xbiex in the shape of yet another defeat by the odd goal, which came at the hands of Luqa SA. Both teams lost on 21/2/15, when league action resumed after the quarter-finals of the FA Trophy: Ta'Xbiex went down 4:2 against Santa Lucija, whilst Mdina Knights lost 3:2 to Mtarfa.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: As always, many thanks to the MFA match-day staff for providing the line-ups.

1 comment:

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