The Malta Independent 26 March 2019, Tuesday

Naxxar put brakes on Valletta as Senglea dispel Lija

Silvio Vella Monday, 11 September 2017, 00:19 Last update: about 3 years ago
Photos: Domenic Aquilina
Photos: Domenic Aquilina



Valletta: H. Bonello, R. Camilleri, J. Cruz, S. Malano, M. Mifsud (J. Borg), M. Piciollo, U. Uchenna, J. Zerafa, R. Saleh, C. Pani, N. Asceric (K. Nwoko)

Naxxar L: C. Nicht, S. Fenwick, R. Grech, M. Micallef, D. Bonnici, G. Nagaoka (D. Falzon), R. Cassar, D. Bustos (J. Debono), A. Buhagiar, M. Fenech, N. Ousseynou


Referee: E. Grech

Asst.refs: D. Sultana, L. Portelli

4th official: T. Farrugia Cann

Yellow cards: J. Zerafa, S. Fenwick, A. Buhagiar, N. Ousseynou, R. Saleh

Player of the match: N. Ousseynou (Naxxar L)

TMI top 3: 1. N. Ousseynou  2. C. Pani  3. M. Micallef

Attendance: 953

Valletta dropped the first points of the season when denied a third consecutive win following a goalless draw against resilient Naxxar Lions. Despite playing on the offensive for long stretches, Valletta could not find a way to breach the compact and organised Naxxar defence, as they were also twice denied by the woodwork.

Naxxar can take heart from a point won with a spirited defensive performance and their first clean sheet after shipping in seven goals in the first two outings.

Following previous two defeats, Naxxar made considerable changes in their side since new technical director Stuart Watkiss took over from former coach Dennis Fenech after the international break.

New faces included those of Austrian keeper Christopher Nicht, Senegalese centre back Ndoyo Ousseynou, Argentine midfielder Daniel Bustos and British forward Scott Fenwick.

Yesterday they played with renewed self belief and enjoyed a slice of good luck to earn a merited first point.

The Lions were content to stay compact, strong in the challenge and looking to release Fenwick directly as Valletta, expectedly, made the more assertive start. The Citizens could have gone in front within the first three minutes as first an Asceric's close header, off a Pani corner, was saved by keeper Nicht and then Mifsud shot over from a promising position.

Although Valletta dominated possession early on, they rarely threatened. Too many times the ball went sideways or backwards rather than forwards and although playing with Mifsud, Asceric, Malano and newcomer Piciollo in attack, they struggled to create much.

In fact they looked rather wasteful when a Malano shot missed the target and his free kick went over towards the hour. Valletta only threatened again on the stroke of halftime when, on a Mifsud low cross from the byeline on the right, Picciollo's goalbound effort was turned into a corner by the Naxxar keeper.

Although the Lions' threat was sporadic, they were still very much in the game for the opening 45 minutes. Bonnici ended his run on seven minutes  with a shot easily saved by Valletta keeper Bonello. And past the half hour, Micallef headed a Bustos free kick wide.

The Valletta keeper Bonello was the first to be called into action in the second period, forced to block at Fenwick's feet after two minutes from the restart.

On the other end, Saleh headed over on a Uchenna cross and minutes later, he completely missed the target after good work by Mifsud on the right as Valletta started to show more conviction.

Naxxar kept defending resolutely and restricting an ineffective Valletta side, who retreated Mifsud and Asceric, to few chances.

But the Citizens kept pushing for a goal and  They went closest on 70 minutes when Cruz swung a corner from the left and defender Camilleri thumped his shot against the post.

That made Naxxar defend with some nervousness, but no less commitment. Ousseynou and Cassar were tirelessly vigilant at the back.

In the dying minutes, keeper Nicht also denied Saleh, repelling his shot. Nicht also blocked Piciollo's effort before the end of normal time. Deep into five minutes of added time, the woodwork again came to Naxxar's rescue, holding out a good effort from substitute Nwoko.

But Naxxar also went close to winning the match, only for keeper Bonello to hold out Debono's shot on the counter.

Senglea dispel Lija with Caseres double



Lija A: L. Bonnici, C. Cassar, L. Muscat, D. Scerri, E. Beu, L. Schembri (M. De Souza), A. Borg, A. Bello Osagie, A. Caruana (M. Clinch), O. Sidibe, D. Leeflang (A. Galea)

Senglea: T. Aquilina, J. Bondin, S. Bonnici, A. Terracciano, M. Garzia, H. Vella, G. Virano (T. Vella), N. Palmieri, I. Paz, R. Caseres (P. Sammut), I. Azzopardi

Referee: S. Pace

Asst.refs: E. Spiteri, T. Debono

4th official: M. Spiteri

Scorers: N. Palmieri 9, R. Caseres 10, 69, A. Bello Osagie 21, E. Beu 77 pen

Yellow cards: H. Vella, R. Caseres, A. Bello Osagie

Player of the match: R. Caseres (Senglea)

TMI top 3: 1. R. Caseres  2. E. Beu  3. I. Paz

Senglea can savour the first Premier League win of the season after beating other newcomers Lija Athletic in a mistake-riddled match. The looseness of both sides produced several chances, including two penalties and five goals.

Lija thus remain pointless at the bottom of the standings, having conceded 10 goals in three matches. Senglea had already drawn with Sliema Wanderers in the opening game and move up to four points.

Both teams however have issues to address at the back.

Senglea were the better team overall and deserved their victory but rather than knocking their opponents out of their stride, they twice allowed Lija to reduce the deficit, leaving them very much in the game till the very end.

A second half of possession without penetration offered a sterile brand of football.

The catalyst behind Senglea's success was undoubtedly Rene Caseres, who scored twice and procured a penalty which team mate Palmieri contrived to miss.

Lija gave a debut to one of their newly recruited Argentinian players - that of midfielder Gonzalo Virano, who played for only an hour.

Defeat came courtesy of costly defensive mistakes, allowing Senglea to take a double lead within the opening ten minutes.

The first came after the Lija keeper Luke Bonnici looked completely out of sorts as he tried to handle a high ball inside his area, but misjudged the trajectory and Senglea foward Nicola Palmieri was quick to lob into an unattended goal.

Senglea's second came a minute later. Rene Caseres ran down the left flank, cut towards the middle and beat Bonnici with a low diagonal strike.

Lija staged a brief revival midway through the half but failed to make the most of their chances although they pulled one back on 21 minutes through a persistent progression from Abubaker Bello Osagie, who went past two opponents before placing a low curling shot beyond keeper Aquilina's reach.

And they should have equalised six minutes later when Senglea's defence was stretched further. Beu won possession against Bondin and ran clear but shot straight at the Senglea goalkeeper. They were even unlucky past the half hour. A low Bello Osagie drive was pushed by the outstretched keeper Aquilina against the innerside of the post and the ball rebounded in play.

Senglea were suddenly back pedalling and failed to bother the Lija keeper for the remainder of the half.

They again started as the better team after the interval though and Paz hit a low tame effort that keeper Bonnici saved on the ground.

Both teams looked devoid of ideas until Senglea won a penalty after Caseres was felled inside the Lija area on 66 minutes. Palmieri's powerful but central shot from the spot was saved by keeper Bonnici.

Luckily for Senglea, the Lija defence was caught napping three minutes later. On a Paz cross from the left, defender Muscat allowed the ball to bounce inside the area and Rene Caseres was quick to head over the stranded keeper.

Senglea looked home and dry but Lija refused to buckle and they again reduced the arrears on 77 minutes, when awarded a penalty after Vella tripped Erjon Beu inside the area, and the same Lija player tucked it away. They however fell short of scoring an equaliser as they succumbed to their third consecutive defeat.

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