Tough matches for title challengers
●Balzan face Sliema, Hibernians meet neighbours Tarxien in deby clash, Birkirkara take on Floriana and Valletta play against Ħamrun ●Two direct matches in relegation battle: St Andrews Gżira and Mosta - Pembroke
The Premier League enters its 11th round of matches between today and tomorrow – there will be no matches on Sunday – where the top four clubs will be facing tough clashes. The programme starts today with the Sliema-Balzan and FlorianaBirkirkara matches. Tomorrow, there will be four games, that is, Tarxien-Hibernians, HamrunValletta, St Andrews-Gzira and Mosta-Pembroke. It is obviously a very interesting programme – the last of the first round. Leaders Balzan will have to do much better than they did against Tarxien last weekend as they face Sliema in the programme opener this evening. Then, Balzan were held to a 2-2 draw by the Rainbows who were only thwarted from taking all the three points by Nafti who saved Balzan’s blushes by scoring a very late equaliser. On that day, Balzan showed that their form has somewhat declined since that disastrous 3-0 defeat at the hands of Birkirkara. Sliema also failed to maintain their good form – five consecutive wins which had rocketed them to sixth place in the standings. Last weekend, they were held to a 1-1 draw by Mosta and they will also have to show better form if they are to entertain hopes of beating the leaders. In today’s second match, Birkirkara will be aiming to return to winning form when they meet Floriana. The Stripes’ hopes were dented by Hibernians the past weekend as the Paolites snatched all the three points after scoring through an inexistent penalty awarded to them near the end. It was a harsh result for the Stripes, but they will have to be at their best today as Floriana have always been tough opponents to them. The Greens did well last weekend to earn all the three points from their clash against Gzira, but their performance was far from convincing and they will also have to show improvement if they are to surprise the Stripes. Tomorrow, the top clash should be the Tarxien-Hibernians derby which is always a delicate match for both sides. The Paolites will have the slight advantage of knowing the results of today’s matches involving Balzan and Birkirkara, but on current form, they should be considered favourites to win all the three points. However, the Rainbows have been showing improvement in their recent matches and it was only through sheer bad luck that they have not won more points, especially in recent matches. In the match that follows, Valletta face Hamrun Spartans in what should be another keen contest between two rival teams. The citizens start as favourites but after their lacklustre performance in a goalless draw against St Andrews last week, one cannot say with certainty that they will be beating the Spartans. The latter, in fact, are occupying a healthy mid-table position with 14 points to their credit and I am sure they will try to do their best
6.00pm Sliema W. vs Balzan 8.00pm Floriana vs Birkirkara
National Stadium 2.00pm Tarxien R. vs Hibernians 4.00pm Ħamrun S. vs Valletta
Victor Tedesco Stadium 2.00pm St. Andrews vs Gżira U. 4.15pm Mosta v Pembroke A.
Balzan Hibernians Birkirkara Valletta Floriana Sliema Hamrun Tarxien St. Andrews Gzira Mosta Pembroke P W D 10 7 2 10 6 2 10 6 1 10 5 3 10 5 2 10 5 1 10 4 2 10 2 4 10 3 1 10 2 3 10 2 2 10 1 1 L F APts 1 21 12 23 2 12 8 20 3 25 8 19 2 15 10 18 3 11 8 17 4 13 11 16 4 18 17 14 4 10 15 10 6 10 16 10 5 11 19 9 6 10 18 8 8 10 24 4
to improve upon that placing if they have the chance. The other two matches on the programme this weekend involve four clubs fighting to avoid relegation. St Andrews will be facing Gzira United and the former will be looking for another positive result after their gritty performance against the champions which earned them a precious point. That enabled them to move onto the 10-point mark, one ahead of tomorrow’s opponents, who have remained stuck on the 9point mark after three consecutive defeats. Mosta and Pembroke will also be fighting to claim all the three points when they face each other in the second match at the Victor Tedesco Stadium tomorrow. Mosta did well to hold Sliema to a 1-1 draw last Sunday, but Pembroke are facing a long uphill task and unless they start winning points, they will find the going even harder in the next rounds.
Triston Caruana (left) and Jackson Lima (right) will fight again for the ball in tomorrow’s derby between Tarxien and Hibernians Photo: Domenic Aquilina