Preview - Day 17 Valletta vs Hibs Published on: 07-01-2017
Valletta saluted 2016 on a bright note after capturing the BOV Super Cup but coach Paul Zammit has urged his players not “to sleep on the past” as the champions prepare to launch their 2017 commitments with a stern test against title rivals Hibernians tomorrow at the National Stadium (kick-off 4pm).
With three points separating Hibs, in second place, and Valletta, their second-round meeting promises to be a fiercely-contested affair as both sides will be going all out to gather the three points to strengthen their title push.
“Looking back on 2016, we had our ups and downs but it was a successful year as Valletta won the Premier League title and Super Cup,” Zammit told Times of Malta.
“Our satisfaction is greater when taking into account the hard work put in by everyone at the club and the character shown by our players, especially in unfavourable moments for the team.
“However, in football, you can’t sleep on the past and I’ve been stressing this to the players all the time.
“We know that we have five busy months ahead of us with two honours, the league and FA Trophy, at stake until May.
“We are beginning 2017 with a game against a very tough team. Hibs have retained the core of players who can make the difference in any game while also introducing some youngsters but for me, they remain one of the strongest teams in the championship.”
After bringing in Lithuanian striker Tomas Radzinevicius as a replacement for Malaysia-bound Federico Falcone, the champions yesterday completed the signing of Malta midfielder Rowen Muscat from Birkirkara on a four-and-a-half-year deal with goalkeeper Henry Bonello moving in the opposing direction.
“It has been a very busy week for the club,” Zammit said of Valletta’s activity in the transfer market.
“Our aim was to add an experienced Maltese player. The policy to rope more youngsters into our senior squad remains unchanged and the young players we have introduced over the past 18 months have been successful but we were lacking experience, especially after the injuries suffered by Roderick Briffa and now Michael Mifsud.
“The circumstances encouraged us to step up our bid for Rowen Muscat as Birkirkara were very interested in Henry Bonello. It was not in our plans to let Bonello go but he expressed his wish to move on owing to a lack of first-team action in the last few months.
“Faced with this situation, we had to do what we felt was best for the team. It was a complicated deal and I want to thank club president Victor Sciriha and Alex Fenech, the vice-president, for their efforts. This deal would not have been possible without their contribution and the work of Gerrard Ellul.”
“I have my ideas on what I expect from Rowen Muscat,” Zammit added. “I’m confident that he will enhance the identity we are striving to create for our team.”
Muscat and Radzinevicius are poised to be named in Valletta’s squad but Mifsud is out as he is due to have an operation to cure a nagging back problem next week.
For their part, Hibs will be without midfielder Johann Bezzina, suspended, while Brazilian right-back Marcelo Dias is highly doubtful with a foot problem.
Hibs coach Mark Miller is relishing the prospect of facing Valletta.
“With our experience so far, every match is tough but I prefer the top-of-the-table games than the lower-table ones,” Miller said.
“The expectations when you face less-quoted teams are higher because people think it’s going to be easy but it’s not like that.
“Valletta have made some changes and it will be interesting to see where we are compared to them.”
Miller would not be drawn into commenting on Valletta’s form this season but said that all the teams are finding the going tough in a tight championship.
“I don’t concentrate on the other teams,” Miller said.
“They (Valletta) probably want to do some different things because they have brought in some new players.
“They are finding it difficult like we have. The same goes for Birkirkara and Balzan.
“You’ve just got to win the other games but it’s not easy.
“There were games that we won by the skin of our nose and others that we lost by the skin of our nose.”
A 2-1 defeat to Balzan dislodged Hibs from top spot before the Christmas break but Miller is adamant that his side didn’t deserve to lose that game.
“The worst scenario was a draw but I felt that we should have won our match against Balzan,” Miller said. “We didn’t deserve to lose but I believe in my boys.
“They are good lads, they train well and their attitude is excellent.
“I’m not going to rush into making new signings. We’re going to have a look at some players.
“I don’t think the result on Sunday (tomorrow) will influence whether we’re going to win or lose the title.
“For me, this game will offer a reflection as to where we are going and what we need to stay with the front-runners.”
Miller is expected to hand a contract to a young English player who has impressed during his trial.
First round: Hibs vs Valletta 2-0.
Source - Times of Malta
Source - Times of Malta