What looked like a romp for our boys when their power play helped them build a 10-4 advantage over Sliema in the first two sessions resulted in a contest of high drama reminiscent of several previous duels between the two thoroughbreds of Maltese waterpolo.
Our team were firing on all pistons in those initial sessions, the only chink in their armoury being the failure to turn the man-up set pieces into goals. In the end we only netted two goals out of seven such situations. That proved to be a serious shortcoming in the final reckoning, more so when considering that our opponents had a very healthy six on seven reading when they had an extra man in the water.
A one-goal lead after the first quarter was flattering for Sliema as the Reds were completely in control. The rehabilitated Hungarian Peter Biros was the architect of Neptunes’ blitz in the second part of the game as he scored a sizzling poker, all his goals coming in succession.
Some complacency from our team tempered with more squandered extra-man opportunities breathed life into our opponents’ intent to fight for their lives. Neptunes conceded the third session 4-1. Our scoring momentum was stalled. However, we were still leading 11-8 as the last part of the game got underway.
Excitement reached fever pitch. In no time Sliema levelled matters (11- 11) after we were caught napping at the back. Antonio Petkovic led the way in scoring terms. Stevie Camilleri’s brace and a sixth conversion from Biros gave us a 14-11 breather. Only three minutes were left but that is a long time in waterpolo.
The Blues dug deep into their reserves of determination to narrow the 14-11 deficit. Jurgen Borg saw to that when he added two more goals to make it a hat-trick, thus grabbing what had initially been an unlikely equaliser for his team 15 seconds from time.
Our lads had been undone at the wire. But we live to fight another day.