Hogg keeps his eyes on the ball Published on: 24-04-2012

Andrew Hogg’s assured display in Valletta’s 2-0 victory over Birkirkara attested to his growing maturity in a season where the City no.1 has upped his concentration and consistency levels.

As the last line of defence of the strongest team in the country, Hogg is not tested very often during games as Valletta generally do most of the attacking but it would be misleading to suggest that the 27-year-old has an easy job.

The challenge for Hogg, as former City coach Ton Caanen told me a few years back, is to keep his focus and make sure that he’s ready to spring into action whenever required. And this is exactly what Hogg has been doing this season.

In Sunday’s delicate clash with Birkirkara, Hogg was idle for most of the match but kept his eyes on the ball to produce some timely interventions, most notably when pushing away Joseph Zerafa’s piledriver early in the second half and Moises Avila-Perez’s dangerous header in stoppage time.

While admitting that Valletta expected a tough game, Hogg said he was disappointed with Birkirkara’s approach.

“It was a game that, to be honest, was bothering me at the back of my mind,” Hogg said. “I like the way Birkirkara play but they disappointed me in this game. To me, they looked like a long-ball team at times.”

Goals from Michael Mifsud and Ousseni Zongo kept Valletta on track to defend their Premier League title as they are six points clear of Hibs at the top with only three games left.

Hogg is confident that Valletta will retain their crown.

“We must keep our feet on the ground,” Hogg reflected.

“We must remain consistent and concentrate on the games ahead but I’m very positive.

“I mean, with the quality and experience of the players in our team, we certainly have the knowhow to finish the job.”

Having already collected two league winner’s medals with Valletta, Hogg is aiming to complete a hat-trick.

“In life, you always want to have more of the good things,” Hogg said. “I’m a very competitive person in everything I do and the more I win, the better.”

Last season, Valletta walked away with the title, going through the league season unbeaten, but this time around, they’re having to contend with the challenge of Hibs.

“Last season, we didn’t really have a team that consistently challenged us for the title as Hibs have done this year,” Hogg said.

The Valletta goalkeeper doesn’t believe that the addition of two teams in the top division has helped to enhance the quality of the league.

“The 12-team format... to me it’s been a bit boring,” Hogg opined. “It’s only after the league split into two groups that the games have really become interesting.

“We’re a small country and there aren’t many top players around. The top league will be more competitive if there are fewer teams because they will have a bigger pool of high-level players.

“My impression was that, in most games, the top sides dropped to the level of the smaller teams.”

Long established as one of the leading goalkeepers in our country, Hogg has made 24 appearances for the national team.

The former Pietà custodian, who had a brief spell with Italian club Bari in the early years of his career, featured regularly in the latter stages of John Buttigieg’s reign as Malta coach but he played no part in Malta’s 2-1 friendly win over Liechtenstein in February.

His omission from the final squad was interpreted as a sign that interim coach Robert Gatt was not happy with Hogg’s performances in the domestic league but the City goalkeeper explained that that was not the case.

“The coach had spoken to me about it,” Hogg replied when asked if his absence from the Liechtenstein friendly had strengthened his determination to reclaim his place.

“Basically, Robert Gatt told me that he had already seen me play many times and therefore wanted to give the other goalkeepers a chance.

“I accepted his decision and got on with it.

“Obviously, I want to keep proving myself and show that I deserve to be the no.1 goalkeeper for the national team. I’m never going to be content with a place on the bench.”

Playing in front of would-be Malta coach Pietro Ghedin – who was present for the training session of the national squad yesterday morning , Hogg certainly did his reputation no harm in Sunday’s game.

With the City fans regularly chanting Hogg’s name this season, it seems safe to assume that they want him to stay with the club beyond the end of his current deal which expires at the end of the season.

Asked about his future plans, Hogg said: “I’m happy where I am. The only thing I will say is that I’m intent on winning more trophies with Valletta and keeping our supporters happy.”

Source - Times of Malta