Gzira pave way for Spartans celebrations
Hamrun Spartans 1 Gzira United 0
11th March 2023, National Stadium, Ta’ Qali
Gzira United succumbed to their second back-to-back defeat in the space of two weeks after a minimum 1-0 setback to Hamrun Spartans. Thanks to this win, after only needing a draw, Hamrun were crowned Maltese football champions. This second successive loss for Gzira, equalled the previous total of losses for the whole of the season, prior to yesterday’s match.
Gzira facilitated the way and gifted Hamrun the satisfaction of starting their championship celebrations early, with four matches to spare prior to the end of the league season.
The match was one of a few chances and possession was evenly balance between both teams in various stages of the match, with play mostly focused in midfield. From the initial stages of the match, the match looked destined for a draw or one which could be decided by a key moment in the match. The latter occurred, in the later stages of the match.
The best clear-cut chance of the match fell in Gzira’s favour. After missing an incredible sitter of a scoring opportunity, with a gaping goal yawning for the ball to be taped in, Hamrun four minutes later, punished Gzira, with a goal that turned out to be the match and championship winner.
This was the second consecutive match for Gzira failing to capitalise on a clear-cut scoring opportunity to score and turn the match in their favour, only for their opponents to punish them for this loss and in the process win the match.
The Montebello jinx against Gzira had struck again. Luke Montebello, had for the umpteenth time scored a decisive goal against Gzira, previously with other clubs and twice this season with Hamrun. In yesterday’s match, Montebello entered the match as a late substitute and scored in the 81st minute, the exact time he had scored in the first-round match, also entering late in that match as a substitute and earning Hamrun a 2-1 victory on the day.
Despite putting the pressure on themselves following this latest loss, the only consolation for Gzira this weekend was that they have for another week managed to hold to second place in the standings on their own, in view that following Match Day 22, their direct opponents failed to make up ground on Gzira’s latest slip up. Gzira now have a tight margin of one point over Birkirkara in third place and two points over fourth placed Balzan.
The day started on a wrong footing for Gzira, when for the second consecutive match, Gabriel Bohrier was ruled out after feeling his injury from the previous week, during warm up.
The first chance of the match fell to Gzira in the 14th minute, when a cross by De Assis was headed out by De Oliveira. Hamrun responded in the 18th minute, when an angled shot by Mashike, was saved by Gzira’s Zarkov to a corner.
The second half followed the pattern of the first half, with both teams blocking themselves out and limiting each other’s attempts on their respective goal posts.
However, in the 56th minute, a low shot by Gzira’s De Assis, after entering the penalty area from the left flank, was saved by Hamrun’s Bonello. Hamrun responded in the 72nd minute, when a shot by Mashike from outside the penalty area, was deviated to a corner.
The greatest scoring opportunity of the match came in the 77th minute. Gzira’s Mendoza won the ball in the centre of midfield and advanced to let Maia through with a well-timed assist, who entered the penalty area only to be challenged by Hamrun’s Borg, with the ball rebounding back in Maia’s feet, only to see his second attempt miss an empty and open-wide goal post with Hamrun’s Bonello, fully beaten. This was the turning point of the match, which could have potentially given Gzira the lead and eventually won the match. But this was not to be.
Hamrun followed up on this glaring miss and has happened to them all season, luck once more favoured them. In the 81st minute, a cross by Mashike from the right edge of the six-yard box, found substitute Montebello unmarked to wrong foot four Gzira defenders in the back line, to tap in the net, past Gzira’s goalkeeper Zarkov.
Gzira mounted desperate pressure in the closing stages of the match to earn an equaliser and in added time could have down so, when a corner by Muscat developed into a goal mouth melee, with the ball being deflected to De Oliveira, who had his close-range effort blocked to safety for a corner by Hamrun’s Bonello.
This was the final act of the match and the referee’s final whistle kick-started Hamrun’s title celebrations and to the other extreme, to the dismay of all the Gzira faithful, Gzira bowed down in another key match, which one hopes in the end, would not prove costly to their European ambitions.
After this latest round of matches, the league stops for an international break. During the next 21 days, until their next league match, Gzira must regroup and revitalize themselves, to enter the final stretch of the league championship, which includes the final 4 matches of the campaign, 3 of them against direct challengers for the European spots, being Mosta, Birkirkara and Balzan in that order. Therefore in the coming crucial weeks, Gzira look forward in sealing their merited participation in next season’s Europa Conference League competition. One augers well.