Preview - Day 26 Valletta vs Balzan Published on: 17-03-2017

The BOV Premier League title race is set for another crucial stage this evening when leaders Balzan face
other title contenders Valletta at the National Stadium.
The Reds head into this clash in fine fettle as Sunday’s impressive 2-0 win over Floriana kept them in
the driving seat in this year’s championship battle.
Balzan are currently one point clear of Hibernians and four ahead of champions Valletta with only eight matches still to be played. However, their task will be any but plainsailing today as they face a Valletta side that cannot afford anything but a win to keep alive their hopes of retaining the league crown.
Balzan coach Oliver Spiteri was pleased with the performance against Floriana but is warning his players that they are set for a tougher assignment this time round.
“Victory over Floriana was very important for our confidence but I’m expecting Valletta to be a more
difficult proposition,” Spiteri told Times of Malta.
“Paul Zammit has assembled a very solid team at Valletta and they’re showing their real potential again these last few weeks.
“They are strong in every department and have the best defensive record in the division. “Lately, Valletta are also starting to ramp up the goals following the arrival of Maximiliano Velasco during the January transfer window.
“But we too have our own strength and, while we respect our opponents, we are going out to play our game and try and grab the three points that would push us closer to the league title.”
Spiteri has no selection problems and is boosted by the return of defender Clive Brincat who missed the Floriana match due to a one-match ban.
Valletta, on the other hand, were dealt a blow with the news that Rowen Muscat is set to be sidelined for another fortnight after scans showed that he has a small tear in his adductor muscle.
The former Birkirkara midfielder will also miss Malta’s World Cup qualifier against Slovakia next week but could be ready for play in time for the derby against Floriana on April 2.
Midfielder Claudio Pani, who limped out with a hamstring injury in the 4-0 win over Pembroke Athleta, and defender Ryan Camilleri (foot) will undergo late fitness tests.
All pressure will be on Valletta this evening as they are yet to record a win over Balzan this season.
Both league meetings turned out to be entertaining affairs but which failed to separate the two teams after identical 2-2 draws. Balzan did hold the edge, however, in the FA Trophy. Despite playing with ten men for most of the Last 16 tie, they still succeeded in eliminating Valletta after a late Alfred Effiong goal for a narrow 1-0 win.
Coach Paul Zammit did not mince his words when asked on the importance of this match.
“If we want to keep challenging for the league we have no other option but to win,” Zammit said.
“We’re in the straight for home now with all teams involved in direct encounters. So, if we want to stay in the hunt we need to produce a big performance to show that we deserve to be in the race.
“Balzan have been leading the way right for most of the season and deserve to be in that position.
It’s now our turn to prove that we are championship stuff as well.
“Our performances over the last few weeks have been very encouraging.
“We have worked a lot to give the team a new identity of play and all the players responded well to
the changes.
“The Premier League remains our only hope of silverware this season. I’m sure the players will rise to the occasion and deliver a clear statement of intent of their league ambitions.”
Results so far: Balzan vs Valletta 2-2, 2-2.

Source - Times of Malta