Balzan eye return to winning form but Hamrun may be hard nut to crack
● Challengers Birkirkara, Hibs and Valletta face modest opponents ● Sliema W. expected to win again to move closer to the top ● Difficult matches for clubs at bottom of standings
The ninth round of matches heralds no big clashes which involve the top or the bottom standings, but it is certainly another interesting weekend for local followers.
League leaders Balzan will certainly be eyeing a return to winning form when they face Hamrun this afternoon, but challengers Birkirkara, Hibernians and Valletta are also expected to keep in touch as they face modest opponents.
Birkirkara take on Gzira, Hibernians face St Andrews and Valletta come up against Tarxien R.
Sliema, who have shown a vast improvement of late and have moved into the fifth place, now have another chance to maintain their momentum when facing bottom club Pembroke, while Floriana will also be seeking to return to winning form as they take on Mosta.
Balzan will certainly be doing everything to win their match against Hamrun to erase the bad memory of their disastrous 0-3 defeat at the hands of Birkirkara last weekend.
On that day, nothing went right for the league leaders as Birkirkara showed their true mettle to score three times in the first half, apart from missing numerable chances in the second half.
Against Hamrun, Balzan will have to be on the alert as the Spartans can be considered as one of the revelations this season though they have to show more consistency.
It is expected to be a keen match, but though Balzan should be considered favourites, it is evident that the Spartans will not be throwing in the towel so easily.
At the same time of this match, second placed Birkirkara will be facing ninth placed Gzira United who seem to have faded somehow after a bright start to the season.
Birkirkara last week responded strongly to what I considered a mission for them to save the Premier League. Their victory over the leaders meant that Balzan’s lead has been reduced to just three points.
Had Balzan won that match, they would have opened a ninepoint lead at the top. After that result, they cannot be considered as runaway leaders.
But the Stripes will have to be on the alert as Gzira could be tricky opponents. Just ask Hibernians and Valletta. The former managed just a draw while Valletta only made sure of their win in the final moments of the match last week.
Having been held to a goalless draw by Floriana last week, Hibernians should be able to gain maximum points from their clash with St Andrews tomorrow.
The Paolites have been somewhat inconsistent this season, but are still a strong side and I still consider them as main challengers for the title.
The Saints have been galvanised by their 4-1 win in the derby against Pembroke, but facing the Paolites will certainly be a different kettle of fish.
However, I admit I have been surprised by the Saints who have shown a vast improvement over last season during which they gained a lot of valuable experience.
Valletta should be able to maintain their winning form as they face another inconsistent side, Tarxien Rainbows.
The citizens had to fight harder than expected to beat Gzira United last week. That was a match of two faces wherein Valletta dominated and played some good football in the first half, only to allow the United to come back strongly in the second half, especially after goalie Bonello was sent off a few minutes from the end.
The Rainbows are 10th in the standings on nine points, the same as St Andrews and Gzira, but they seem to have enough potential to be able to improve upon that placing, though possibly not against Valletta.
Another team which is doing well at the moment is Sliema Wanderers. They have registered four wins in a row and it is quite possible for them to obtain another three points as they face bottom club Pembroke in tomorrow’s first match on the programme.
The Blues have slowly but surely crept up the table – from 10th to fifth place in just one month. They are now occupying a healthy place which could also be improved upon to be also considered as challengers for the honours, considering that the season is still far away from its end.
Pembroke have undergone a coaching change following last week’s 1-4 defeat at the hands of rivals St Andrews. Artim Shaqiri of Macedonia has taken over following the dismissal of Winston Muscat. The latter has also been suspended by the MFA Disciplinary Commissioner till 18 January.
In the other match on the programme, Floriana will also be eyeing a return to winning form as they take on 11th placed Mosta who have collected only seven points from the eight matches they have played.
These two sides, especially Floriana who are in sixth place on 11 points, were expected to fare much better this season, but have found the going tough. Balzan Birkirkara Valletta Hibernians Sliema Hamrun Floriana Gzira Tarxien St. Andrews Mosta Pembroke 8 8 8 8 8 8 8 8 8 8 8 8 6 5 4 4 4 3 3 2 2 3 2 1 1 1 2 2 0 2 2 3 3 0 1 1 1 16 9 19 2 18 6 16 2 14 10 14 2 10 8 14 4 11 10 12 3 15 13 11 3 9 8 11 3 10 11 9 3 8 12 9 5 10 15 9 5 9 16 7 6 9 21 4
Action from an encounter between Tarxien and Floriana last season