Preview Day 22: Valletta vs Birkirkara Published on: 07-02-2015

Forced to live in the shadow of runaway leaders Hibernians for most of the season, Valletta and Birkirkara know that anything but a win from their direct encounter at the National Stadium tomorrow (4pm) would all but end their involvement in the title race.

The two rivals already face an uphill battle to haul themselves back into contention but, with points being halved after this weekend’s games, a win would keep their flickering hopes alive.

Given that only one point stands between Valletta and Birkirkara, victory would give either side the edge in their personal duel for second place but the runner-up spot is not a target for City coach Ivan Zammit.

“The league title is what matters to me,” Zammit told Times of Malta.
“Finishing second, third or fourth wouldn’t make any difference if I
don’t deliver the title.

“I still believe in our chances. Our weakness is that we don’t have a
large squad. “I was not here in the first few months of the season but it was clear that most of our foreigners were not up to standard.

“Now we have signed a few players in January to have more strength-in-depth.”

Like Valletta, Birkirkara have  been dogged by a lack of consistency this season but the City boss believes that the Stripes are the most in-form team.

“Birkirkara are the best team on current form,” Zammit said. “They are not the strongest side because we have shown in many games that Valletta are the best team but our rhythm has dropped since the Christmas break.

“Birkirkara are very strong, especially in midfield, and in Paul Fenech they have a player who has reached a very high level of performance.”

Valletta’s ‘stars’ failed to justify their lofty standing last Sunday as the champions were a pale shadow of their usual selves in their 2-1 setback to Balzan.

Zammit refrained from criticising his players for their inept showing but suggested that the team’s mental approach for the Balzan game was not right.

“The most important thing is that the players are mentally focused on the game and not on other issues,” Zammit, himself a former Valletta stalwart who had a spell with Birkirkara during his playing career, said.

“I’m 100 per cent sure that they will give their utmost. “The players must be well prepared, psychologically, physically and tactically, as there are no easy games nowadays.”

Towering defender Steve Borg returns from suspension for Valletta but Dutch striker Djamel Leeflang is sidelined with a foot injury.

English forward Lateef Elford Alliyu is not 100 per cent fit.

Birkirkara coach Paul Zammit is facing up to the grim prospect of having several first-choice players unavailable.

Captain Gareth Sciberras (knee) and Brazilian striker Eliandro (hamstring) are almost certain to miss the game while Edward Herrera (foot) and Rafael Ledesma (hamstring) are highly doubtful.

Ryan Scicluna is suspended while Mauricio Mazzetti, Shola Shodiya Haruna and Ryan Camenzuli are down with flu.

Zammit could hand a debut to goalkeeper Mirza Hamzabegovic if the Bosnian recovers from an adductor problem as Justin Haber is reportedly facing an uncertain future at Birkirkara.

Although tomorrow’s clash is arguably Birkirkara’s last chance to stay in the title race, Zammit is more concerned about achieving some consistency.

“My top priority is the situation of my team rather than the fact that
we’re playing against Valletta,” the Birkirkara coach said.
“Both teams are behind
Hibernians because we’ve been inconsistent. “I now want to see whether we have the potential to sustain our title challenge and you can’t ask for a better test than this.

“I was very pleased with our performance in the draw against Hibs but very disappointed with our approach to the Sliema game (1-1).

“The bottom line is that, in one week, we have dropped four points and you can’t expect to challenge the leaders when your team loses all these points.”

Zammit sees a lot of similarities between his side and Valletta this season.
“Valletta are in the same situation as us,” Zammit said.

“They are strong but inconsistent. We’re both coming from disappointing results and it’s high time that we roll up our sleeves.

“Birkirkara-Valletta is one of the highlights of the local football calendar and all of us, the players, technical staff, clubs and supporters, must prove that we are up to the level of producing a good show.”

Looking back on his team’s up and down campaign, Zammit said Birkirkara have thrown away too many points but is backing his players “to keep fighting until the end”.

First round: Birkirkara vs Valletta 2-0.

Source - Times of Malta