No bite in Gibraltar’s performance as they face defeat against Montenegro
Over a thousand tickets sold to watch Gibraltar play Montenegro was among one of the signals that Gibraltar fans were looking for some positive results from this match. They were not to get the result they wanted with Gibraltar conceding from early on. Then going on to a 3-0 defeat.
With Tjay De Barr not considered match fit for internationals and allowed to return to his club Gibraltar were forced into an important change up front with Reece Styche getting his chance to start a big international. His presence did not provide the type of attacking options some had hoped. Gibraltar having its best attacking spells only after 40 year old Lee Casciaro emerged on the field.
After 24 months out injured the return of Joseph Chipolina who made possible the wins against Armenia and Liechtenstein was among one of the big positives in the lead up to the match. Chipolina, tested by Lincoln in Europa Conference League group stage football showing he was ready enough to play at this level. Gibraltar also saw the return of Jayce Olivero at the back with Liam Walker, who played in the Pepe Reyes cup also making a return into midfield.
Julio Ribas was also to show his trust in his young talents with Julian Valarino, Louis Annesley and Kian Ronan among the starting eleven.
In a day of international action with the Under 21s having played in Bulgaria, the Under 17s having played the previous day and Gibraltar netball hosting the Europe Netball Open Challenge just across the way, the Gibraltar versus Montenegro was the latest event in which Gibraltar hoped its supporters would lead them to a positive result. However, without the aggressive offensive approach Gibraltar still needed to excite its own supporters on the field.
The match started with Joseph Chipolina lucky to see a flaying arm within the first minute not punished by officials now using VAR as part of the new regulations adopted for the European qualifiers.
Montenegro started dominating possession early on earning a corner within the first three minutes. A solid header by Chipolina cleared the danger but only to see Montenegro come back at Gibraltar.
It took Montenegro six minutes to open the score as a long ball was floated in. Reading the ball well Marusic controlled well with his chest and bringing it down turned on Olivero and brushed past Chipolina before slotting past Kyle Goldwin as Gibraltar claimed for an offside. After a check on VAR the official giving Montenegro the goal.
The early goal was one of the earliest goals conceded by Gibraltar during a group match recently. Gibraltar did not settle down until past the first quarter of an hour getting some more touches to the ball after having played deep in their half with little possession those initial first fifteen minutes.
Shielding the ball well Reece earned a free kick for Gibraltar. Walkers long floated ball into the penalty area easily taken by Montenegro’s keeper in what was Gibraltar first real venture into the other half of the field.
An intelligently threaded long through ball by Graeme Torilla opened a chance for a break for Gibraltar as they settled into the game and started to play with greater confidence. The opportunity was quickly stopped with Reece adjudged to have fouled the defender as he chased. It was, however, an indicator of Gibraltar’s growing confidence as the minutes ticked away.
Reece, though, a lonely figure chasing shadows. Montenegro who had been dominating did not have another attempt at goal until past the twentieth minute with a weak shot wide off the target. Gibraltar did well to reduce the dominance in possession shown by the visitors in the early minutes.
As the half hour mark arrived Gibraltar seemed to settle back into a deeper defensive posture with Montenegro again dominating possession.
With a crowded penalty area Mugosa found a chance to shoot with the ball going just wide off the target.
Minutes later Montenegro earned themselves a corner, played short the ball was struck by Marusic hitting Reece’s elbows just outside the penalty area. The referee ignoring calls of handball.
On the fortieth minute Kyle Goldwin was penalised as he came out from his line to try and block a break at goal from a cleverly threaded ball through past the defence. The keeper colliding with Mugosa as he missed clearing the ball. Beciraj added the second as he placed the ball far from Goldwin’s reach.
Kian Ronan was to have a crack at goal from distance with the ball rising over the bar as Montenegro waited to make their substitution for the injured Mugosa.
Montenegro went into the break with a 2-0 lead with Gibraltar not having had any opportunity at a goal.
Gibraltar prepared for the second half with Julio Ribas gathering his bench whilst warming up just moments before the restart to instruct them on what he wanted next. The Gibraltar head coach not making any changes at half time.
Goldwin was to make up for an error in collecting a bouncing ball in the first minutes in which he conceded a corner by clearing well with a punch.
Gibraltar started to play very deep in their half but found themselves chasing forward as Walker put through a ball for Ronan to chase. This resulting in Ronan ending in a clash of heads as he tried to beat the defender to the ball. The match stopped for a further few minutes due to injury as Ronan’s head was bandaged.
Moments earlier Montenegro’s Scekic substituted due to injury after a clash of legs with Torilla.
With the game resuming Reece Styche was in the thick of controversy as he was pulled down inside the edge of the box, the referee instead giving the foul against him.
Having kept Montenegro still at touching distance as they entered the hour mark Styche’s running down the flank invited a foul with Tomaseciv earning a yellow.
Gibraltar had a couple good chances for goal, the first with Torrilla having a half volleyball attempt blocked and then Styche judged to be offside as he broke through.
Forty year old Lee Casciaro, who had just come back from an injury, was called upon to come in to add extra firepower with Styche substituted. The non-league attacker not having produced the type workrate that Gibraltar has been used with Tjay De Barr and Lee Casciaro upfront. Instead the player’s continuously complaining at decisions risking being penalised.
Montenegro found the back of the net again on the 67th through Beciraj. A well worked ball on the left floated into Beciraj’s path to head past Goldwin as he run behind the defence.
The visitors started to dominate possession deep inside Gibraltar’s half with Casciaro alone upfront. The veteran player showing he can still be a handful. His work rate seeing him find an opportunity which saw him put the ball just over the bar on the turn after a string of passes from left to right opening Montenegro’s defence for him to find space.
Joseph Chipolina was substituted by Ethan Britto. As the match approached its final ten minutes Montenegro watched as a chance at goal rolled past the front of the goal after Goldwin came off his line to clear a break but was beaten to the ball.
Moments later Gibraltar again threaded a string of passes from right to left ending in a corner. The subsequent play saw Annesley controlling inside the penalty area and taking a tumble calls for a penalty ignored with the player lucky not to be booked.
Gibraltar found themselves with another opportunity this time with Lee Casciaro regaining the ball inside Montenegro’s penalty area but unable to find a red shirt with a short pass.
Casciaro’s presence on the field looked as if it had re-energised Gibraltar as they took on a more aggressive offensive posture on the field momentarily. Jamie Coombes and Mohammed Badr came on for Torilla and Walker.
The changes did not bring a continuation of the momentum seen during those five to ten minutes, instead Gibraltar started to once again sit back in defence and waiting to regain possession for a break.
An additional eight minutes of injury time prolonged the match for a tired-looking Gibraltar sitting deep in their half. Gibraltar’s attackers not having the support on the break they required with players hanging back and seeing Montenegro come back at them when they regained possession. Gibraltar held on with Montenegro winning 3-0 and closing the points gap with the top three in the group table. The Netherlands now at the top of the table after beating Latvia 1-0 will be Gibraltar’s next opponents next week. Turkey and Norway finished their match with a 1-1 draw which leaves Norway keeping their two point gap to stay in second place with Turkey behind.
With Gibraltar now firmly rooted at the foot of the table with little chance to change the adoption of a defensive posture on the field continues to be one of the main points of debate among supporters. Many now asking for a more offensive approach even if risking conceding after Gibraltar had played its qualifier matches with just the lone attacker upfront whilst conceding twenty-eight goals in seven matches, scoring just the three.