No extra pressure as Valletta look to return to winning ways Published on: 13-04-2019

Valletta will be looking to put their recent poor form and change of coach behind them to revive their title defence credentials when they face relegation strugglers St Andrews at the National Stadium, tomorrow (kick-off: 6pm).

Last weekend, the defending champions took a stumble in the title race after Gżira United held them to a 1-1 stalemate, which proved costly as they slipped into second place, one point behind new leaders Hibernians.

However, the drama did not stop there as earlier this week, the club announced that coach Danilo Doncic, who joined the club last season following Zoran Popovic’s sacking, had resigned from his post.

Former skipper and assistant manager Gilbert Agius is now tasked to run the team in the final three league games of the season as Valletta seek to put their chances back on track.

“Danilo Doncic’s resignation was a bit of a shock to us,” Agius told the Times of Malta.

“We have to admit that it has distracted us because we did not expect his decision. However, the team is making sure to regain full focus and keep the challenge going as we are nearing the end of the season.”

The quest for a 25th title crown which would see them join rivals Floriana in the all-time winners’ list, is proving to be a daunting task as Hibernians, who were not among the top favourites prior to the season, showed a lot of consistency which helped them stay in the title hunt and make the race at the top positions a very intriguing one.

Asked about Hibernians regaining top spot again and if it has added extra pressure on Valletta’s players, Agius played down such theory.

“Obviously, there is always the expectation to win the title at Valletta and we always make sure to be competitive and reach that objective every season,” he explained.

“However, I don’t really think that slipping to second has increased the pressure on us. Actually, I feel that the pressure is now mounting on the new leaders as they know we’re not giving up the fight lightly.”

The cliché ‘every game is difficult’ has a huge relevancy to tomorrow’s fixture as St Andrews are looking for points to salvage their Premier League status.

Agius feels that all teams can give the top sides a run for their money in this championship.

“I always say there are no easy matches in the league,” Agius said.

“However, we are preparing for this game with a cool mind even though we do not have a full squad available.”

Eye for salvation

St Andrews, on their part, are occupying the play-out spot on 18 points at the moment.

In the 10 league games played in 2019, the Saints have only collected two points.

Coach Johann Scicluna feels that the team has been weakened during the January transfer market even though that should not be an excuse for their poor run.

“Although we did not replace the departed players adequately, that should not serve as an alibi to explain our position,” Scicluna said.

“In this situation, every point is a bonus and we will be looking to pull an upset this weekend. However, we are aware of Valletta’s potential and will be more cautious in our approach as we respect our opponents – genuine title challengers.”

Scicluna will have to do without suspended duo Travis Blagrove and Degran Jackson tomorrow.

“The situation with suspensions this weekend will give us an opportunity to include new faces especially since our locally-based players boast more defensive qualities that will be beneficial for us,” Scicluna said.

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