Newly-promoted Gzira United marked their return to the Premier League after an absence of over three decades with a draw as they notched a late equaliser in the clash with Tarxien Rainbows at the Victor Tedesco Stadium on Friday.
The Maroons held the initiative in the early stages but the Rainbows managed to break the deadlock just before half-time and controlled their opponents for most of the second half. However Gzira had other thoughts and rescued a point in the dying minutes.
Gzira had no less than nine players making their debut, namely goalkeeper Jurgen Borg, Clifford Gatt Baldacchino, and Jacob Borg and foreigners Joceano da Silva Santos, Gianmarco Conti, Rafael Pompeo Rodrigues Ledesma, Souleymane Diamoutene, Antonio de Queiroz Machedo Neto and Robert de Pinho Souza. Tarxien, on the other hand, had Spanish midfielder Daniel Ponce de Leon Garcia and Kurt Zammit making their first appearance.
The Maroons had an edge over their opponents for most of the first half but after going close through an overhead kick by Alex Nilsson, Tarxien managed to break the deadlock just before half-time.
In fact two minutes in added time, the Rainbows took the lead thanks to Daniel Ponce de Leon Garcia whose low shot from outside the area beat goalkeeper Jurgen Borg.
Early in the second half, the Maroons went close with a Rafael Ledesma freekick but on the 50th, the Rainbows missed an incredible chance as Alex Nilsson failed to connect off an assist by Pedrinho with the open goal at his mercy. On the 62nd, a Diamoutene header was slightly deflected into a corner following another corner by Ledesma. Ten minutes from time, Daniel Zerafa came to the rescue clearing off the goal line a Rafael Ledesma freekick.
Gzira notched the equaliser on the 90th minute when off a corner by Rafael Ledesma, Antonio de Queiroz Machedo Neto ‘Tony’ headed the ball home.
GZIRA Jurgen Borg, Joceano da Silva Santos (72′ John Nwoba), Gianmarco Conti, Rafael Pompeo Rodrigues Ledesma, Clifford Gatt Baldacchino (79′ Dyson Falzon), Moises Avila Perez, Jacob Borg, Souleymane Diamoutene, Antonio de Queiroz Machedo Neto, Yanis Tonna (72′ Karl Pulo), Robert de Pinho Souza.
Subs not used: Jamie Azzopardi, Kyle Gerada,, Andre White, Jonathan Bondin.
Coach: Branko Nisevic
TARXIEN Andrea Cassar, Ebiabowei Baker, Triston Caruana, Daniel Ponce de Leon Garcia (64′ Eloy Edu Nkene), Alex Nilsson, Sergio Fernandez Prendes, Daniel Zerafa, Alex da Paixao Ales, Joao Pedro Oliveira Santos, Kurt Zammit.
Subs not used: Philip Schranz, Christian Galdes, Luke Zahra, Dylan Micallef, Matthew Tabone, Sacha Borg.
Coach: Jacques Scerri
Referee: Alan Mario Sant
Assistant Referees: Alan Camilleri, Roberto Vella
Fourth Official: Stefan Pace
Yellow Cards: Prendes, Tonna, Pedrinho, Avila Perez, Zammit
Meanwhile at the Hibernians Stadium, Birkirkara had to wait till late as they scored three in the final minutes to register a 4-0 win over St. Andrews.
Predrag Jovic, Srdjan Dimitrov and Dejan Djordjevic were making their first league appearance for Birkirkara while their latest signing James Brincat was included as a substitute. For St. Andrews Karlo Kesinovic, Felix Udoh Okon, Nenad Belacevic, Ryan Darmanin and Godwin Mckay were making their debut.
Birkirkara took the lead on the 14th minute when off a Cain Attard cross, Srdjan Dimitov headed the ball home.
The Stripes doubled the score eight minutes from time thanks to Edward Herrera, served by Vito Plut, who slotted the ball past goalkeeper Jake Galea from close range following a counter-attack.
A minute later, Birkirkara added another when off another counter-attack, Cain Attard served Ryan Scicluna whos hit home from inside the area.
Three minutes in added time, substitute James Brincat beat goalkeeper Galea to seal the issue with a fourth goal.
BIRKIRKARA Miroslav Kopric, Cain Attard, Christian Bubalovic, Predrag Jovic, Joseph Zerafa, Gareth Sciberras, Ryan Scicluna, Mislav Andelkovic (46′ Matthew Guillaumier), Srdjan Dimitrov (77′ James Brincat), Dejan Djordjevic (69′ Edward Herrera), Vito Plut.
Subs not used: Ini Akpan, Zach Cassar, Ryan Camenzuli, Matteo Desira Buttigieg.
Coach: Drazen Bezek
ST. ANDREWS Jake Galea, Michael Johnson, Karlo Kesinovic, Bong Won Che, Felix Udoh Okon, Godwin Mckay (67′ Daniel Brandle), Dale Camilleri (79′ Ivan Edgardo Paz), Joseph Farrugia, Nenad Belacevic, Kyrian Nwoko, Ryan Darmanin (61′ Jacob Walker).
Subs not used: Dean Sciberras, Ryan Sammut, Liam Grech, Wade Moodley.
Coach: Jose Borg
Referee: Glen Tonna
Assistant Referee: Mitchell Scerri, Peter Abela
Fourth Official: Malcolm Spiteri
Yellow Cards: Mckay
BOV Player of the Match: Srdjan Dimitov