Doncic calls for response as Valletta face Sliema test Published on: 11-01-2019

BOV Premier League football returns on the local sporting agenda as from this evening as the 14 teams in the Maltese top flight return to competitive action after almost a three-week Christmas break.

Ħamrun Spartans and Floriana will set the ball rolling this evening, but no doubt the main match on the card is Sunday’s duel between champions Valletta and Sliema Wanderers at the National Stadium (kick-off: 4pm).

This season’s title race looks tight as ever with the top eight teams in the division separated by just eight points and with league’s front runners facing each other this weekend we may be in for an enthralling weekend.

Champions Valletta, currently third on 28 points and three adrift of joint-leaders Gżira United and Hibernians, will be determined to put behind them their poor showing in their last league appearance against Ħamrun Spartans which saw them stumble to a 1-0 defeat.

Nothing less than three points will satisfy the Citizens who are looking to keep up the pressure on the front duo and at the same time open some breathing space on the Wanderers who are only three points adrift.

Danilo Doncic, the Valletta coach, has threw down a challenge to his players and warned that they surely cannot afford to drop any points in their next three matches against Sliema Wanderers, Hibernians and Birkirkara if they are to maintain their hopes of successfully defending their league title.

“For us the next three games are very important,” Doncic told the Times of Malta.

“This is an opportunity for us to show that we can continue to fight for the league title and we must win all three matches, starting with our next match against Sliema Wanderers.

“The defeat to Ħamrun Spartans in our last match was hard to fathom but I believe that it was a timely wake up call for our players to roll up their sleeves and step up their game for the second part of the season.”

Valletta are one of the few teams that have so far failed to be involved in the January transfer window and Doncic said that for now they are happy with the squad they have at their disposal.

The Serbian coach has a full squad available for the match with the exception of Oman midfielder Raed Saleh, who is currently on international duty with his country at the 2019 Asian Cup.

Valletta will surely have a score to settle with Sliema on Sunday as the Wanderers had beaten the Citizens 3-0 in their opening league match last August.

Sliema president Keith Perry said that victory over Valletta, which was their first in the league for the last seven years, had instilled a lot of self belief in the players and is hopeful they can continue where they left off with a strong performance against Valletta.

“I have only words of praise for my team’s performances this season,” Perry said.

“Contrary to previous years, this season Sliema have managed to go on a run of positive results against lower-ranked teams and that enabled us to remain in touch with the frontrunners.

Surely, our win against Valletta in the opening day of the season was crucial for us as it instilled renewed self belief in the players,” he added.

“Unfortunately we lost some direct encounters against the top teams and we must improve on that. The match against Valletta is a perfect opportunity for us to show that we deserve to be among the teams challenging for Europe.

“Our first-round victory over Valletta should give the players the belief that they are capable of taking all three points and hopefully we can get a positive result this weekend.”

The Wanderers have no selection problems and coach John Buttigieg can select from a full squad. First round result: Sliema Wanderers vs Valletta 3-0.

Source - Times of Malta