Preview Day 5: Valletta vs Hibernians Published on: 22-09-2015

After a contrasting weekend saw them swap positions at the top of the nascent Premier League standings, champions Hibernians and rivals Valletta will be engaged in their first direct encounter tomorrow at the National Stadium.
While Hibs rose to the summit for the first time this term after a 1-0 victory over derby rivals Tarxien Rainbows, Valletta slumped to their first defeat of the season after going down to Balzan.
It is far too early in the campaign to define the first showdown between Hibs and Valletta as crucial but the prospect of a four-way championship race means that the title hopefuls can ill-afford to drop points, especially in direct clashes.
Branko Nisevic, the Hibs coach, said tomorrow’s clash is no different from the other fixtures because there are no easy matches these days.
“The so-called big teams will have many big tests this season,” Nisevic told Times of Malta.
“It looks like we’re going to have a very competitive championship.
“I mean Tarxien Rainbows are not one of the leading clubs in the Premier League but look at their results this season... they have beaten Sliema and also took points off Birkirkara and Balzan.
“There are no easy games.
“Of course we are aware that in Valletta, we are facing one of the title contenders.”
Valletta had won their opening three games before their 1-0 reverse to Balzan. Some suggested that Saturday’s upset could tarnish Valletta’s morale but Nisevic is wary of a City backlash.
“It can work both ways,” Nisevic replied when asked what kind of reaction he expected from Valletta.
“Valletta will surely be eager to bounce back, it might give them an extra push, extra motivation.
“On the other hand, we are at the top of the table and we want to stay there.”
Nisevic is perturbed by the fact that his team have an important game against Valletta only three days after their derby against Tarxien Rainbows.
“I was looking at the fixtures and there are at least two occasions this season when Hibs, Tarxien and Floriana will have only two days between games whereas other clubs have four,” Nisevic said.
“The fixtures should have been more balanced. All the clubs should receive equal treatment because playing two games in such a short space of time can have an effect on the teams.”
Brazilian forward Denni can’t line up against his former team tomorrow as he must serve the second of a two-match ban.
Nisevic is still assessing the condition of goalkeeper Jurgen Bog who missed the last two games due to injury.
Valletta coach Paul Zammit also has concerns about goalkeeper Henry Bonello who played no part in Saturday’s game.
Brazilian right-back Romeu Romau is in line to return but Jhonnattann’s participation is in the balance after the nippy striker injured his wrist against Balzan.
The Citizens were naturally disappointed to have surrendered their perfect start to the season on Saturday but Zammit believes that the Balzan defeat was a timely eye-opener for his team.
“I want to reiterate that the project we have started at Valletta has been positive so far,” Zammit said.
“I’ve been saying this since the start of the season but the truth remains that we’re going to have a lot of tests and we have to be up for it in every game.
“Although we began the season strongly, if anyone was under the illusion that we had already achieved something, this result showed otherwise.
“It was a reality check and the players know the situation.
“I don’t want to take anything away from Balzan’s merits because they played well.
“At the same time, I saw a very strong reaction from my team after we conceded and that was the only positive to come out of Saturday’s game. But credit to the opponents.”
A win against the champions would surely help to restore Valletta’s optimism but Zammit knows that his team are in for a difficult match tomorrow.
“Hibs have a very strong team,” Zammit said. “They have increased the depth of their squad this summer.
“But, at this moment, I’m only focusing on my team and how the players are going to react.”
Asked whether his revamped team can compete on a par with the likes of Hibs and Birkirkara this season, Zammit responded: “On paper, I definitely can’t compare any team to Hibs and Birkirkara.
“We are in the process of building a squad to reach that level and the tests are the games.
“The pitch doesn’t lie.”

Source - Times of Malta