The Malta Independent 23 July 2019, Tuesday

BOV Premier League: Hibs, Valletta expected to succeed against relegation-haunted Qormi, St Andrews

Henry Brincat Saturday, 13 April 2019, 13:00 Last update: about 4 months ago

Another interesting weekend is in store for local football enthusiasts as the 24th matchday is played between today and Monday.

No issue has yet been decided and it is likely, in my opinion, that the title and Europa League berth issues, not to include the battle to avoid 12th place, may go to the wire. Maybe there will be the need for a decider. But there are still three matches to go and all the clubs involved are keeping their fingers crossed that they will emerge from this ordeal in triumphant mood.

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This weekend, the top two, that is, Hibernians and Valletta will be facing Qormi and St Andrews respectively and both are expected to win all the three points, thus maintaining a 'status quo' at the top.

Meanwhile another interesting battle is being lodged by four clubs - Sliema, Hamrun, Balzan and Birkirkara - for a 4th place which might mean a Europa League berth next season.

In this sector, the top clash is undoubtedly that between two of the contenders, Hamrun and Balzan.

At the other end of the table, Pieta and Qormi seem to have one foot already in next season's first division. Qormi face Hibernians, while Pieta must beat Tarxien at all costs to maintain their slight hopes.

Senglea are also fighting hard to avoid relegation and after holding Hamrun to a draw, they could give Sliema a hard time on Monday evening.

Mosta are not yet mathematically safe, but they will be facing a tough challenge from Birkirkara in a match which could be considered a preview of the forthcoming FA Trophy quarterfinal.

In the other match on the programme, third placed Gzira face mid-table placed Floriana, who have no further interest in the proceedings.

 

TOP CLASHES

As already said, I cannot see Hibernians and Valletta faltering against minnows Qormi and St Andrews respectively.

Do not get me wrong. I am sure that both the Saints and Qormi will be fighting hard despite being the underdogs.

But the two top clubs have many guns to outpower their rivals whose only chance to avoid relegation is to win all their remaining three matches and St Andrews lose theirs.

The Paolites are coming from a brilliant come from behind 3-2 win against Birkirkara the past weekend and are now full of enthusiasm having returned to winning form after three successive draws.

Valletta received a setback when they could only figure in a 1-1 draw against Gzira, thus allowing the Paolites to remain on top.

The citizens were further jolted on Monday when Danilo Doncic announced his resignation. The team is now in the hands of City's former star player Gilbert Agius who is well aware that City need to win maximum points from their remaining three matches and hope for a Hibs slip to be able to retain the title.

The other top clash this weekend is the direct clash between Hamrun and Balzan in the race for the 4th spot and a possible Europa League berth next season.

Hamrun seem to have lost their momentum recently and will certainly find it difficult to overcome the solid and balanced Balzan side which seems to have regained confidence in the last few matches.

At present, Sliema and Hamrun are joint 4th on 41 points, while Balzan and Birkirkara are just two points behind them.

This match could be another closely knit affair and the result could go either way.

 

OTHER MATCHES

Sliema should also be able to beat Senglea to take all the three points.

But they cannot afford to underestimate the Yellow Reds who have been one of the more consistent teams in this second round.

Birkirkara need to overcome the disappointment of having lost to Hibernians with two late goals last weekend as they face the fighting Mosta side.

The Blues are not yet mathematically safe and I expect them to offer a strong challenge, although the Stripes should hold the edge.

Pieta are aware that their task is a very difficult one, but I expect them to show the same determination they showed against St Andrews last Sunday in an effort to try and overcome Tarxien Rainbows to keep their slim hopes alive.

The final match on the card this weekend is the clash between 3rd placed Gzira and mid-table placed Floriana.

Gzira are almost certain of finishing third. They could achieve their target by winning this match, but also depending on the results of the other involved teams.

 

The last three matches

As the Championship campaign nears its end, no issue has yet been decided.

Only three matches remain to be played by each club and this is the programme for each club (points in brackets) till the end:

 

CHAMPIONSHIP

Hibernians (52) - v. Qormi, Senglea and Balzan.

Valletta (51) - v. St Andrews, Tarxien R. and Hamrun S.

Gzira U. (46) - v. Floriana, Mosta and St Andrews.

 

EUROPA LEAGUE

Sliema (41) - v. Senglea, Balzan and Pieta H.

Hamrun S. (41) - v. Balzan, Pieta and Valletta.

Balzan (39) - v. Hamrun S., Sliema W. and Hibernians.

Birkirkara (39) - v. Mosta, Qormi and Senglea.


RELEGATION

Mosta (24) - v. Birkirkara, Gzira U. and Qormi.

Tarxien R. (23) - v. Pieta H., Valletta and Floriana.

Senglea (22) - v. Sliema W., Hibernians and Birkirkara.

St Andrews (18) - v. Valletta, Floriana and Gzira U.

Qormi (13) - v. Hibernians, Birkirkara and Mosta.

Pieta H. (13) - v. Tarxien R., Hamrun S. and Sliema W.

 

NOTE: In the relegation issue, the 13th and 14th placed teams at the end will be relegated automatically. The 12th placed will feature in a decider with the 3rd placed in the First Division to determine who will play Premier League football next season.

4th PLACE: The 4th place offers a Europa League berth only if one of the first three placed teams in the League wins the FA Trophy. If the winner of the Trophy is either Valletta or Hibs (they meet each other in the quarterfinals), or Gzira, then the 4th placed team in the League will play in next season's Europa League. This is because Malta will have three teams in the UEFA club competition, and those will include the 2nd and 3rd placed teams in the League.

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