Sciriha baffled by Citys form Published on: 04-10-2013

Reaffirms faith in under-fire Miller

Valletta president Victor Sciriha has been left befuddled by his team’s stuttering league form but he can’t put his finger on the reasons behind their early-season struggles.

The Citizens responded to their failure to win the league title for the third year running last season by recruiting a host of new foreigners, including a goalkeeper, Italian Pietro Marino, Gambian players Hamza Barry and Aziz Corr Nyang, and the highly-rated Tunisian playmaker Abdelkarim Nafti.

They began the season with lofty ambitions of recapturing their status as the top team in the Premier League but their lacklustre performance in the 1-0 defeat to champions Birkirkara on Sunday added to the scepticism about Valletta’s teamwork and their prospects of producing a sustained title challenge.

Like all the disgruntled City fans, Sciriha is unimpressed.

“I don’t think I’m the only disappointed person,” Sciriha said of Valletta’s performances in the nascent 2013/14 BOV Premier League.

“All the Valletta supporters are.

“We were confident that, with the coach (Mark Miller) we have and the players we added to the squad in the summer, we would be very strong in the league.

“In the Europa League, we produced some very good performances but in the domestic championship, the team has clearly not shown its true potential so far.

“I don’t know why we are struggling, I have no idea.

“In training, the players look fantastic but they are failing to replicate that form during games. The difference in the level of performance is inexplicable.

“I can’t understand why this is happening, maybe it’s the pressure but then all the teams are under pressure.”

The upset to Birkirkara followed a largely unconvincing showing against Naxxar Lions the previous week. More significantly, it was Valletta’s second defeat against a direct title contender after they had surrendered a two-goal lead in a 3-2 defeat to Hibernians.

Sunday’s setback has inevitably turned up the heat on Mark Miller but Sciriha has backed the English coach to turn the situation around.

“Of course I still believe in him (Miller) otherwise I’d have been the first to ask him to resign,” Sciriha said.

“Miller is a great professional. I know how he works and his training is excellent. Besides his work with the senior team, Miller has also given our youth nursery a big boost.

“From my side, as well as that of the Valletta committee, the thought of removing Miller has never crossed our minds.

“He did offer his resignation once, at the end of last season, but I rejected it.

“We have met with the coach. Obviously, there is a lot of pressure on him but this is football. The coach is always the no.1 target when things are not going well but I don’t believe Miller is to blame for the team’s problems.”

Sciriha is particularly unhappy with the input of most of the team’s foreigners.

Two of them, Nigerian striker James Aud-Gustine Obaje and Brazilian Felipe D’Agostin, who didn’t make one appearance for Valletta, have been released and there are also doubts over the future of Romulo Antoneli, another Brazilian striker who has hardly been used by Miller since joining the club in the close season.

“Those foreign players who fail to perform on a regular basis will not be retained come January,” Sciriha claimed.

“Valletta just can’t miss out on the title for two seasons in a row. Failure to reclaim the championship would be a big blow for the fans and the club in general, especially from a financial perspective.”

With the jury still out on Valletta’s title credentials, Sunday’s fixture against the high-flying Sliema Wanderers has clearly taken on added significance for the Whites, moreso after their defeat to Birkirkara left them in fourth place, six points behind Hibernians.

Although it’s still very early in the season and Valletta still have plenty of time to overcome their early travails, Sciriha is no doubt that Sunday’s match against Sliema, who are two points clear of the Citizens, has become crucial for his club.

“We didn’t deserve to lose against Hibs,” Sciriha said. “Our football in the first 25 minutes of that match was the best we’ve played this season but the game turned on Denni’s red card.

“If it stayed 11 vs 11, we wouldn’t have lost to Hibs.

“In last weekend’s game against Birkirkara, our team was non-existent, we were not present. There was no motivation.

“In this context, our next fixture against Sliema Wanderers has become crucial for our team.”

Source - Times of Malta