Preview: Day 10 Valletta vs Hibs Published on: 03-11-2017

Leaders Valletta and defending champions Hibernians are preparing for a classic clash in the match of the week as they lock horns this Sunday at the National Stadium.

After an underwhelming start to the season where they won three of their first four matches with the same scoreline – 1-0, Valletta were temporarily lost their way with 0- 0 draw to Naxxar Lions, before succumbing to a 2-1 defeat at the hands of title contenders Balzan.

Nonetheless, that defeat galvanized the squad to react with a fourmatch winning streak and in the process they found the net 16 times.

That winning streak helped the Citizens to leapfrog surprise-package Gżira United with the former league pacesetters dropping crucial points against Floriana, Senglea Athletic and Balzan. Valletta overtook them in the standings to and lead the pack on 22 points, two ahead of the Maroons.

Hibernians, bounced back from their 1-0 defeat to Sliema Wanderers to overcome the challenge of Lija Athletic last weekend with a 3-0 score line.

Claiming the three points helped the Paolites to regroup themselves and keep within a touching distance of the leading pack, acurrently standing joint-fourth with Floriana and Sliema on 17 points.

Undoubtedly, both teams share the ambition of challenging for the title and despite these are still its early days, there is a general feeling that this encounter could be crucial.

Zoran Popovic, the Valletta coach, is satisfied that his side is on ascendency following minor blips with the team looking to have mastered his tactical ideas.

“In recent matches, we played really well and I am happy that Valletta are on the right track,” Popovic told Times of Malta.

“Obviously, I am expecting a tough game as Hibernians are the defending champions and they have a point to prove as we are leading them by five points.”

With the former FC Saham coach having every player available for Sunday, their lethal weapon is upfront with the striking duo Matteo Piciollo and Kyrian Nwoko.

Both players have found the net four times in as many matches.

Asked about the growth of Nwoko, Popovic underlined his attitude which is helping him develop into a better performer on the field and he is already reaping the benefits with the recent Malta call-up by newly-appointed coach Tom Saintfeit.

“I spoke with Tom Saintfeit and I am very glad that he earned the call-up despite joining us from St Andrews only this summer,” a delightful Popovic said.

“Like every youth player, he has still to grow physically but it is important at this juncture to be patient and seize the opportunity whenever it comes.”

Popovic is confident that another Valletta home-grown hope – Jean Borg – could soon earn a senior call up.

As for the Italian striker, the former Floriana and Mosta coach has been granted Piciollo freedom to lift them towards the championship crown.

“Unfortunately, he could not be available for the early matches given he was without a club for almost all summer and therefore he did not train properly, but once he regained his form, he has became a valuable asset for us,” Popovic added.

Mark Miller is unable to rely on a full squad as the strikers’ curse of has struck again.

Brazilian forward Leandro Augusto who joined the club last week and was handed a debut on Saturday against Lija but suffered an ankle injury, which will ruled him out for long-term.

“Unfortunately Leandro Augusto suffered a knock in training and once again we are without a real striker,” Miller told Times of Malta.

“However, we already knew that this will be a really tough game against the leaders , which I stress is a must-win game for us.

The pressure will be all on them but in order to bring the three points home, we have to be very careful and avoid careless mistakes which can cost us the game.”

One player who is shining with the title holders is midfielder Dunstan Vella who has been entrusted with the keys of the midfield department and has been decisive in his plays, including the 1-0 victory over Senglea Athletic when he scored the winning goal.

“Dunstan Vella has already featured last year and he has developed into quite a promising player,” Miller affirmed.

“He is very intelligent and very calm with the ball and knows already what the next play will be. “He is still young and needs more time to develop but given he is very patient, it is just a matter of time before he will have a huge influence in our team.

“Having said that, we have lot of competition in the midfield department and it is crucial that we keep our players hungry in order to attain the best from them.”

Source - Times of Malta