The Malta Independent 26 April 2019, Friday

BOV Premier League: Leaders Hibernians face tough challenge from defending champions Valletta

Henry Brincat Friday, 18 January 2019, 12:01 Last update: about 4 months ago

The 15th round of matches offer an interesting variety of clashes which will involve teams battling for the title, others for a place in Europe and the rest fighting to avoid relegation.

The most important clash is that between current leaders Hibernians and third placed defending champions Valletta.

But also interesting should be the match between Hamrun and Gzira with the latter needing the points to stay in touch with the leaders and the Spartans also needing the points in their quest for a place in Europe next season.

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Three others teams eyeing European football next season, Sliema, Birkirkara and Balzan, will also be looking forward to winning the three points as the Wanderers face Floriana, while Birkirkara and Balzan take on relegation haunted clubs Pieta and Qormi respectively.

At the other end of the standings St Andrews face Tarxien in a match where both teams will be seeking to improve on their mid-table position.

The most important clash here is the direct encounter between 11th placed Mosta on 12 points and 13th placed Senglea who now have 7 points.

 

TOP CLASH

The top clash this weekend is undoubtedly the Hibernians-Valletta match which should attract the largest crowd so far this season to Ta’ Qali on Sunday.

Although still quite early before the end of the season, this match could provide some sort of indication as to what could be in store in the near future for local football followers.

At present, Hibernians are enjoying a two-point lead over second placed Gzira and three over third placed Valletta.

A victory for the Paolites will see them remaining clear leaders, also moving six points ahead of Valletta. A draw will keep them at the top, but they could be joined by Gzira, if the latter win this evening’s clash against Hamrun.

It should be a very tight encounter with the Paolites considered as the most in form team in the competition.

Valletta, on the other hand, did well to beat Sliema 2-0 last Sunday to keep in touch with the two teams above them in the standings.

If Gzira win this evening, they will become leaders, at least until Sunday when Hibernians take on Valletta.

The Maroons will be facing tough opponents in the Spartans and will certainly have to show improvement if they are to return to winning form after their surprise 1-1 draw against Tarxien Rainbows last weekend.

The Spartans were made to fight hard to snatch a point from their 1-1 draw against Floriana, scoring their equaliser a few minutes from the end.

 

OLD FIRM CLASH

The Sliema-Floriana match, as usual, brings back memories of old times when sporting rivalry between the two teams was at its best. Suffice to say that such matches used to attract thousands to the old Gzira Stadium, almost always filled to capacity.

It is, if course, not the case today, when the two teams can only muster a few hundreds between them, and that only on a few special occasions.

Yet with Sliema well in line to keep on fighting for a place in Europe and with the Greens needing the points to finally start moving up the standings, one expects another close affair.

Birkirkara and Balzan seem to have relatively ‘easy’ matches against Pieta and Qormi respectively. But they cannot take things for granted.

The Stripes, having invested so much so far in this month’s transfer market, should be expected to be too strong for Pieta.

The Hotspurs have provided tough opposition to almost all teams, but they still cannot hold on against the bigger fry.

The Stripes failed to win against Balzan and they also failed to score at least once. Against Pieta they will be under pressure to get the three points at stake.

The same applies to Balzan although the latter will be facing a demoralised Qormi side.

The Yellow Blacks were humiliated 4-0 by relegation rivals Senglea last week and now have a tough struggle to regain confidence.

They are unlucky to be facing a strong side such as Balzan soon after last week’s heavy defeat, but they must do something to start regaining their confidence.

Balzan will obviously be seeking to make sure of the points as early as possible, but they also need to find their scoring form.

The programme also includes another important relegation clash between Mosta and Senglea.

Last weekend, both teams obtained important points, Senglea beating Qormi 4-0 and Mosta forcing a 1-1 draw thanks to a late goal against St Andrews.

Mosta need the points to distance themselves from the third from bottom place, now occupied by Pieta, while Senglea need points to move closer to the teams above them, thus opening the relegation wide.

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