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

Malta Independent - - SPORT -

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

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