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Gibraltar’s European sides get season underway

Gibraltar’s four European representatives played their first leg matches this week, with three of them drawing their opening matches in European competition this season.

Photo © David Roberts

After the introduction of the Europa Conference League, Gibraltar had four teams qualify for Europe for the first time – which meant Mons Calpe were making their European bow in the first match of the week involving a local team.

Cesar Vega’s team hosted Andorran’s Santa Coloma at the Victoria Stadium on Tuesday evening. Despite having the better of the first half, they went in behind at the break to a goal by Xavier Puerto. The second half was a complete role reversal – Santa Coloma had numerous opportunities and were denied by Mons keeper Christian Fraiz, before Mons striker Aritz Hernandez, who signed in the summer from Lynx, scored from close range to secure a draw.

Attention then turned to the Champions League, where Lincoln travelled to Luxembourg to face Fola Esch. Mick McElwee’s side appeared to be heading to a win after goals from Fernando Carralero and Ethan Britto gave Lincoln a two-goal lead, but Fola Esch scored twice in little over a minute through Stefano Bensi and Denis Ahmetxheka to secure a 2-2 draw – Lincoln host Fola Esch on Tuesday at 6pm, and ticket information should be released imminently.

Last night, St Joseph’s travelled to Tallinn, which at 3,373km was the longest journey made by any team in the Conference League this week, to face Levadia, but they had a nightmare start going 2-0 down in 10 minutes courtesy of goals from Zakaria Beglarishvili and Ernest Agyiri. Saints tried to battle back but conceded a third from the spot as Marko Putincanin appeared to put the tie beyond doubt. However, moments later Cristian Pecci grabbed a consolation which in the grand scheme of things gives Saints a chance, albeit low, of qualifying when they play at the Victoria Stadium next week.

The final game of the week saw Europa host Lithuanian side Kauno Zalgiris. Despite their visitors being 19 games into their league season, they came in on the back of four games without a win, and Europa dictated play for almost the entire game. However, they lacked the finishing touch on a number of occasions and in the end had to settle for a goalless draw.

It is also worth noting ahead of next week that the away goal rule was abolished for this season – so while Mons Calpe currently benefit from that rule, Lincoln and St Joseph’s goals away from home will not play a part if the scores end up tied after the second leg.

Next week’s fixtures:

Tuesday 18:00 – Lincoln v Fola Esch (Victoria Stadium)

Thursday 18:00 – Kauno Zalgiris v Europa (Suduva Stadium)

Thursday 18:30 – St Joseph’s v Levadia Tallinn (Victoria Stadium)

Thursday 18:30 – Santa Coloma v Mons Calpe (Estadi Nacional)

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Saints beat Europa to stay in title race

St Joseph’s kept their hopes of a first league title since 1996 alive, as they beat Europa 2-0 last night at the Victoria Stadium.

Photo (C) David Roberts

After both teams suffered disappointing defeats on Saturday, Europa and St Joseph’s knew that defeat last night would make it very unlikely they would end the season lifting the Gibraltar National League shield. After a 3-1 loss to Lincoln, Europa made five changes, with Olmo, Alex Quillo, Mikey Yome, Dylan Borge and Juanlu all chosen to start by Rafael Escobar. Meanwhile, Saints manager Raul Procopio responded to the 4-1 defeat against Mons Calpe by also making five changes – Carlos Carrasco, Erin Barnett, Alain Pons, Juanma and Domingo Ferrer all were given the nod.

The opening half hour saw both teams have chances without threatening either goalkeeper – Fede Villar headed over from Kenneth Chipolina’s long throw, before Yome chested the ball and volleyed over for Europa at the other end. Barnett then came close to scoring, heading just wide from Nano’s cross, before Saints were awarded a penalty just after the half-time mark. After missing last weekend, this time it was Nano who was entrusted with the spot-kick, and he sent Christian Lopez the wrong way to open the scoring for Saints.

The second half saw Europa have a couple of half chances in the opening exchanges – they will have known a draw would have done them no favours, and that they needed to score twice in the second half to keep their title hopes somewhat healthy. They came closest to getting at least one back in the 78th minute, but Jamie Robba made an excellent save to deny Chico Diaz. That was as good as it got for Europa, and St Joseph’s sealed the win in injury time, when substitute Stefano Borghi wrapped up all three points to ensure his team were the ones to return to winning ways.

If Lincoln beat Lynx tonight, St Joseph’s will be 3 points behind the league leaders, who they face in the penultimate matchday of the season – if Saints beat Lincoln they would overtake them, courtesy of having a better head-to-head – providing they do not drop any further points on Saturday against Lions, who have already drawn with them this season. For Europa, even if they win all their games, they will now be looking for favours from Mons Calpe, Lynx and/or Lions if they were to go on and win the league, as the title race is most certainly out of their hands.

Lineups:

Europa: Lopez; Breed (Clinton, 73), Olmo (Rosa, 64), Juampe, Quillo (Diaz, 64), Yome (Gibson, 82), Sanchez, Badr, Carrascal (Gallardo, 82), Borge, Juanlu

Unused Subs: Romero, Alvarez

St Joseph’s: Robba; Chipolina, Carrasco (Pecci, 73), Nano, Barnett, Juanfri (Guirado, 82), Villar, Pons, Juanma, Ferrer (Borghi, 64), Mouelhi

Unused Subs: Mateo, Rojas, Garro, Moulds

Yellow Cards: Carrascal; Carrasco, Barnett, Ferrer, Mouelhi, Guirado

Red Cards: None

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Mons stun Saints with late goals

Three goals in the final five minutes or so of the game saw Mons Calpe beat St Joseph’s 4-1, and move themselves closer to securing 4th place as a result.

Photo (C) Rough & Ready

St Joseph’s made four changes from the side that beat Lynx 5-0 – Kenneth Chipolina, Sykes Garro, Nano and Aymen Mouelhi all were handed starts, while for Mons, their only change from the side that lost 2-0 to Europa saw Diego Caballero replace Renan Bernardes.

The game, in truth, felt more like a basketball match for the vast majority of it, with both sides intent on attacking at every opportunity and throwing complete caution to the wind – after both sides had created chances, it was Mons who took the lead when Elyakim Musoni got on the end of a good cross to give his side an early lead.

St Joseph’s had more concerns soon after, when Jamie Robba required physio treatment, but the Saints keeper opted to continue, and soon after his defensive skills were being tested when he made a good tackle some 30 yards from his own goal to stop Diego Diaz attacking his goal. There was a disappointing moment of officiating, when Saints captain Boro, who was clearly being held back when through on goal, was not awarded a foul of any sort as he chose to stay on his feet instead of throw himself to ground – an example of why players do go down so easily in modern football, as it sometimes seems the only way to get the officials to notice you have been fouled.

Mons should have made it 2-0 soon after, but Nathan Santos, who was lively all game without being rewarded for it, first saw his one-on-one effort saved by Robba, then saw his header go wide off the post. A few minutes later, Musoni went in on goal and lobbed an effort well over, and you began to wonder if Mons would start to regret not going further ahead.

St Joseph’s would go on an equalise in the 57th minute, when Stefan Borghi’s powerful cross was turned in by Domingo Ferrer – things appeared to then get better as they were awarded a penalty, and a chance to go ahead. However, Juanfri’s penalty hit the post and the chance went begging.

From that point, the game pretty much opened up to a floodgate of chances – Mons thought they had scored when Santos’ header had hit the side-netting, before Diaz failed to cut the ball back to Musoni for a tap-in. With 5 minutes to go, Ethan Santos made a crucial block in his own six yard box to deny Saints a second goal – it would prove even more crucial than first thought as Mons went on to score three goals in the final stages of the game.

Mons first caught Saints on the counter, and Diaz slotted in to make it 2-1, before Ayoub El Hmidi took his time and calmly extended his sides lead a minute later. Saints heads had clearly gone by this point, and Francisco Moreno had the easy task of making it 4-0 on the 93rd minute. Tensions boiled over after the 4th goal, but the officials handled it sensibly given the game was essentially over at this point.

For Mons, that win currently puts them 6 points clear of Lynx, who play today against Lions, and it means Lynx, as well as having to win today, will need to get a result vs one of the ‘big 3’ to have a chance at finishing 4th, given Mons already have the head-to-head record over them. For Saints, they blew the chance to move level on points at the top with Lincoln and Europa – they must now win every game in order to win the title, including most likely a two-goal victory or greater against Lincoln to secure the head-to-head lead over them if needed.

Lineups:

St Joseph’s: Robba; Chipolina, Garro (Pons, 45), Boro (Ferrer, 52), Nano, Pecci, Borghi, Moulds, Juanfri, Villar (Juanma, 45), Mouelhi

Unused Subs: Mateo, Serra, Rojas, Carrasco

Mons Calpe: Fraiz; E. Santos, Rodriguez, El Hmidi, Musoni (Morenjo, 76), Caballero, N. Santos (El Andaloussi, 81), Ojeda, Ballaster, Diaz, Mallemaci (Dos Santos, 63)

Unused Subs: Montano, Bernardes, El Andaloussi, Boulaich

Yellow Cards: Nano, Pecci, Villar; Fraiz, Musoni, N. Santos, Ojeda, Diaz, Boulaich

Red Cards: None

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Juanfri hat-trick sends Saints on way to victory

A hat-trick from Juanfri saw St Joseph’s on their way to a straight-forward 5-0 victory over Lynx yesterday evening.

Photo (C) St Joseph’s

Bradley Banda returned to the Lynx squad after injury, but only to the bench as Bradley Avellano retained his spot in goal, while Thomas Som, Alberto Caravaca, Antonio Gonzalez and Tyronne Avelanno were all bought into the starting eleven for the match. For Saints, they made one change from the win vs Lincoln – Antony Moulds replaced Aymen Mouelhi in defence.

There was an early blow for St Joseph’s as Pishu had to come off injured within the first 15 minutes of the game; he was to be replaced by Sykes Garro, but it was another local who played a pivotal part in Saints opener, as a brilliant cross from Alain Pons found the head of Juanfri, who made sure to score and give his side the lead. Lynx reacted to going behind, and after Tyrone Avellano saw his low driven shot saved by Jamie Robba, they also had a goal-bound effort scrambled away from off the line – this would prove to be as good as it got for Lynx though.

St Joseph’s kept pushing for the second goal, but were seemingly set to go in at the break only a goal up, until with almost the last kick of the half, an impressive through-ball from Cristian Pecci sent Boro in on goal, and the Saints captain made no mistake, giving his side a 2-0 lead at half-time. Soon after the restart, it would be 3-0 – Erin Barnett’s cross found Juanfri, who hit the crossbar, but teammate Stefano Borghi was on hand to pick up the rebound and score his first goal since joining from Glacis in the winter.

From that point, Saints played the rest of the game picking away at Lynx, looking for opportunities to extend their lead, and Juanfri would be the eventual beneficiary of that approach. His second goal was once again set up by a cross from Pons on 72 minutes, and three minutes later he would complete his hat-trick, stabbing the ball home after a cross from Barnett on the opposite flank – Saints full-backs proved to be key all game and Lynx could not stop the constant supply from Pons and Barnett.

Lynx had a couple of half-chances to reduce the deficit, courtesy of efforts from Caravaca, Aritz Hernandez and Estiven Morente, but in truth they looked like a team well-beaten. They face Lions next up in what will be expected to be a tight affair, while St Joseph’s take on Mons Calpe, now knowing they are only three points off the top of the table.

Lineups:

Lynx: B. Avellano; Serra, Som, Power (Jav. Parody, 73), Caravaca, Jay. Parody, Gonzalez (Morente, 73), Ruesca, Espinosa, Valarino (Parkinson, 75), T. Avellano (Hernandez, 52)

Unused Subs: Banda, Valdivia, Santos De Matos

St Joseph’s: Robba; Boro, Pishu (Garro, 14), Barnett, Pecci (Carrasco, 58), Borghi (Ferrer, 74), Moulds, Juanfri, Villar, Pons, Juanma

Unused Subs: Mateo, Serra, Chipolina, Guirado

Yellow Cards: Serra, T. Avellano; Pecci, Pons

Red Cards: None

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Borghi: “We feel we can win the league”

FG caught up with Italian winger Stefano Borghi to talk about St Joseph’s win over Lincoln, his time at the club so far and more.

Borghi reflected on Saints’ 1-0 win over Lincoln, “The team played very well. We were well organised in the first half then in the second half, we came out with high intensity and had a great game.

That win leaves St Joseph’s two points behind Lincoln and three off leaders Europa – we asked Borghi how important the win over Lincoln was, “This victory for us is of vital importance as we have shown that we can beat anyone. It has been a huge boost for the team and one which we feel we can win the league.

The 25-year old joined St Joseph’s from Glacis United in January – we asked Stefano about his team at Saints so far, “I felt comfortable with the team right from the start. I am trying my best every time I go out on the pitch after my injury in early April, but now I feel good and confident again.

Lastly, we asked Stefano what he hopes to achieve this season – “I want to win all the games from here to the end of the season and win the league, I’m super convinced that we can do it.

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Saints keep title hopes alive in Lincoln win

A penalty from Juanfri was enough for St Joseph’s to beat Lincoln 1-0, and move to within 3 points of the top of the table as a result.

Photo (C) W Gracia Photos

Lincoln saw Chino, Tjay De Barr, Roy Chipolina and Luke Wall return to the starting eleven after the cup game in midweek, while St Joseph’s saw Cristian Pecci and Stefano Borghi come in for Nano and Carlos Carrasco. Saints came in to the game knowing defeat would have left them eight points off the top and effectively end their title race as a result, but had the advantage of a week’s rest after losing in the quarter finals of the Rock Cup.

The first half saw both teams trade chances on goal; Chino saved from Juanfri’s effort inside the box, while Fernando Carralero, Mustapha Yahaya and De Barr all shot off target for Lincoln, who were looking to return to the top after Europa’s 2-0 win vs Lions the night before. They had the best chance of the half just before the break, however Kike squandered the opportunity and both sides went into their respective dressing rooms at half time with the score goalless.

Stefano Borghi headed wide from a cross 10 minutes after the break, before the deadlock was finally broken – after St Joseph’s were awarded a penalty, Juanfri smashed it down the middle, leaving Chino with no chance and putting Raul Procopio’s side ahead. Both teams kept the referee busy, with Lincoln being shown eight yellow cards and St Joseph’s four, and the period after the goal saw a number of Lincoln’s players pick up cautions as they looked to get back into the game.

10 minutes before time, Jamie Robba was called into action and made an excellent save to deny Kike, and after Lincoln had an injury-time goal ruled out for offside, Mick McElwee’s side saw the game, and the top of the table, escape from their grasp. Lincoln are now second, a point behind Europa, who they face on Saturday in a potential title-decider, while St Joseph’s are two points behind Lincoln and three behind Europa – they face Europa on the 4th May, and depending on the result between Europa and Lincoln three days earlier, that game could potentially be a title-decider for Saints too.

Lineups:

Lincoln: Chino; Ronan (Moreno, 71), Wiseman, Lopes, De Barr, Chipolina, Toscano (Omoregie, 80), Carralero, Yahaya (Torrilla, 53), Kike, Wall

Unused Subs: Soler, Gamiz, Sergeant, Coombes

St Joseph’s: Robba; Boro, Pishu, Barnett, Pecci (Carrasco, 74), Borghi, Juanfri (Ferrer, 89), Villar, Pons, Juanma (Rojas, 89), Mouelhi

Unused Subs: Mateo, Chipolina, Garro, Moulds

Yellow Cards: Chino, Ronan, Wiseman, Lopes, De Barr, Toscano, Carralero, Kike; Robba, Pishu, Pecci, Juanfri

Red Cards: None

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Boro takes the win for Saints

A second-half header from St Joseph’s captain Boro ended up being enough for his side to take a narrow 1-0 victory over Lions yesterday evening.

Photo (C) William Gracia

St Joseph’s bought back Carlos Carrasco, Cristian Pecci and Alain Pons into the team from their last league match, while Lions started with seven HGP’s, including a start for Cecil Prescott.

Saints were expected to control the possession and play, with Lions as normal sitting deep and attempting to make life as difficult as possible for their opposition. It took until 27 minutes for keeper Borja Valades to be called into serious action, making a great save from Boro before Kaylan Rumbo blocked Juanfri’s follow-up effort. Apart from another great save to deny Juanma just before half-time, Lions were not seeing their goal bombarded, with St Joseph’s not making the most of the possession they were having.

Saints made an attacking change at the break, taking off Fede Villar and bringing on Angel Guirado, and just after the hour mark, they would finally take the lead. Aymen Mouelhi’s shot hit the woodwork and eventually Boro managed to head the ball in from very close range to break Lions resistance.

The game had all the potential of their first meeting, where Lions grabbed a late equaliser from goalkeeper Valades, but this time their late chance was from Jared Buhagiar, who shot over from outside the box, and Lions could not take anything from the game to deny Saints.

Lineups:

St Joseph’s: Robba; Carrasco, Boro (Garro, 81), Nano (Borghi, 60), Pishu, Barnett, Juanfri, Villar (Guirado, 45), Pons, Juanma, Mouelhi

Unused Subs: Mateo, Serra, Rojas, Ferrer

Lions: Valades; Tovar, Bosio, Breakspear (Dobinson, 81), Rumbo, Cintas (Ruiz, 70), Peacock (Morales, 50), Buhagiar, Cortes, Hastings, Prescott (Verjaque, 70)

Unused Subs: Victor, Grech, Borja Sanchez

Yellow Cards: Juanma; Rumbo, Buhagiar, Hastings, Morales

Red Cards: None

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Saints and Europa share the spoils

St Joseph’s and Europa both dropped points in the title race as the pair drew 1-1 yesterday afternoon.

Photo (C) Rough & Ready

Both teams came into this game knowing that a win could put the pressure on Lincoln, who were to play later that evening against Lynx, and it was Saints who struck the opening blow when Juanma scored directly from a free-kick just before the 15 minute mark. Their lead would last mere minutes though, as after St Joseph’s failed to clear their lines, Marco Rosa curled an effort into the top corner from outside the box.

Juanma would come up important at the other end too, as after a super save from Jamie Robba to deny Rosa a second, the Saints scorer would head off the line from the resulting corner. In the second half, Saints went closest to scoring when they hit the woodwork, while Boro saw a shot saved by Christian Lopez.

Neither team could find the winner, despite Stefano Borghi squandering a late chance for St Joseph’s, and Adrian Gallardo being denied for Europa by a good block by Fede Villar, and the draw sees Europa now two points off the top, and St Joseph’s five off Lincoln, with eight games remaining in the Championship Group.

Lineups:

St Joseph’s: Robba; Boro (Rojas, 88), Nano, Pishu, Barnett, Pecci (Carrasco, 70), Moulds, Juanfri (Borghi, 74), Villar, Juanma, Mouelhi

Unused Subs: Hernandez, Garro, Guirado, Pons

Europa: Lopez; Olmo (Gallardo, 77), Ayew, Juampe (Juanlu, 85), Walker, Yome (Gibson, 77), Jimenez, Badr, Aviles, Rosa (Alvarez, 88), Borge

Unused Subs: Romero, Breed, Diaz

Yellow Cards: Pecci, Moulds, Juanma; Olmo, Yome, Jimenez, Borge

Red Cards: None

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Saints and Europa to meet in Rock Cup quarter-finals

St Joseph’s and Europa will face off in the Rock Cup quarter-finals after securing wins against Bruno’s Magpies and Europa Point respectively yesterday.

Photo (C) Rough & Ready

Saints opened the cup this year with a tight 2-1 victory against Bruno’s Magpies in the early kick-off. Juanfri had put St Joseph’s 1-0 up just before half-time, before Javi Casares equalised for the Challenge Group leaders soon after half time. The tie looked like remaining at 1-1 until five minutes to go, when Andrew Hernandez pounced on a loose ball to grab the winner for Raul Procopio’s side.

Europa’s game was much more of a formality, as they comprehensively beat Europa Point 10-0 in the later kick-off. From the get go, the gulf in class between the two was clear to see, and fresh off making his international debut against Montenegro, Dylan Borge grabbed four of the 10 goals – Liam Walker and Adrian Gallardo scored two each, while Mikey Yome and Olmo scored the other goals as Rafael Escobar’s side comfortably set up the quarter final tie vs their title rivals.

Today’s fixtures see Glacis take on Intermediate League side Hound Dogs in the 6:30pm kick-off – the winner of that tie will face Mons Calpe, while in the later kick-off, Lincoln take on Lions, with the winner set to face Lynx in the last eight. The other quarter final, already set in stone, sees Manchester 62 take on College 1975 – all quarter-finals are scheduled for between the 13th – 14th April, with the semi-finals a week after, and the final on 21st May.

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Hernandez: “I think the club is in the right direction to winning a trophy this season”

FG caught up with St Joseph’s and Gibraltar’s Andrew ‘Pishu’ Hernandez to talk about the recent win vs Mons Calpe, his sides chances at a trophy this season and more.

Photo (C) Black and Burst

Pishu played 45 minutes in St Joseph’s 4-0 win vs Mons Calpe and was a key part of the team in that match – how did he feel the game went: “I think it was a match which was very important for us to win. We had dropped 6 important points in the lead up to this game and therefore it was important for us to get back to winning ways and stay close to the top spot in the league. I think this win puts us in a good position to remain title contenders.”

The 22-year-old has proven himself to be very versatile, playing at full-back, in the centre of midfield, and against Mons Calpe on the right wing – how important does Pishu think being comfortable in multiple positions is? “That is true. I do feel comfortable in multiple positions and I am happy that managers are comfortable and confident on playing me in multiple different positions. This is something I try to work towards and keep an open mind.”

St Joseph’s sit third, three points off the top and face Bruno’s Magpies in the Rock Cup – so what chances does Hernandez give of his side lifting a trophy come the end of the season? “I think the club is in the right direction to winning a trophy this season and has been for a number of years now. The team is more ready than ever and if we can get momentum again I think there is no stopping us.”

Finally, the midfielder is in the preliminary squad for Gibraltar’s upcoming internationals – does he think he’s done enough to earn his space in the squad: “I have been training extremely hard to present myself as an option to Julio and the GFA. If he does select me for the final squad it is a privilege and I will make sure in contributing the most I can!”