Preview - Day 31 Valletta vs Bkara Published on: 16-04-2016

Preview Day 31 Valletta vs Birkirkara

Roderick Briffa has called on his Valletta team-mates to produce the right response to last week’s derby upset to Floriana as they look to put their title challenge back on track with victory over Birkirkara tomorrow.
Backed by an impressive run of 11 successive victories, Valletta seemed closing in on a 23rd league title but a 2-0 reverse to Floriana blew the title race wide open as now they are only three points clear of Hibs while third-placed Balzan are one behind the champions.
Birkirkara, too, could have their say in this year’s run-in as a win tomorrow would see the championship race developing into a four-way tussle with only two matches left.
Valletta enjoy a perfect record against Birkirkara in the league this season, with December’s 4-0 victory seeing Stripes coach Giovanni Tedesco getting the sack and replaced by Drazen Besek.
After a difficult spell at the start of the year, Besek’s team is finally clicking into gear.
Strengthened by the return of a number of key players from injury, Birkirkara embarked on a run of five successive wins that pushed them within touching distance of the league pacesetters and six points clear of Floriana in the race for fourth place.
Added to that, Birkirkara are still in the FA Trophy and face Floriana in the quarter-finals next Wednesday.
Briffa admitted defeat to Floriana was a huge psychological blow to the club.
“Losing to Floriana was hard to fathom,” Briffa told Times of Malta yesterday.
“We knew a win could have pushed us closer to the title but unfortunately our performance on the day was very disappointing.
“Although it’s never a good feeling to lose a match, that setback was also a timely wake-up call for us players to show our true mettle in the remaining matches of the season.
“There are three to go and we are still enjoying a three-point lead over our nearest rivals so destiny is still in our hands.
“This week we all looked at the shortcomings in our previous match. We had a serious talk and that helped to get us back into the groove, more determined to win our next match against Birkirkara.
“We hope that Valletta FC supporters will stay behind the team now as we need their backing more than ever in such a delicate phase of the championship.”
Paul Zammit, the Valletta coach, is forced to make two changes to his line-up as skipper Jonathan Caruana and wing-back Romeo Romao must each serve a one-match ban.
Birkirkara have no selection worries with Besek expected to welcome striker Matija Smrekar back from injury. Ryan Scicluna is also in the team after serving a one-match ban.
Midfielder Gareth Sciberras is wary of a Valletta side that will be eager to forget all about the derby but is heartened by Birkirkara’s strong run of late that could propel them to a positive finish to the championship campaign.
“This match is our last chance to put ourselves back in the title race,” Sciberras said.
“Valletta are coming from a defeat to Floriana so we are bracing ourselves for a tough battle knowing they would be highly charged to beat us.
“Our form in recent weeks im-proved considerably and the team is now showing its best form so we are looking forward to it.”
Sciberras believes Birkirkara have put behind them their troubles and they’re strong enough to challenge on different fronts.
“Up to a few weeks ago no-one gave us a chance as the team struggled to adapt after so many changes in January,” he reflected.
“Despite all the scepticism surrounding our team, we knew that if Birkirkara kept in touch with the top teams we could put ourselves back in the title race and so it was.
“The squad has settled down nicely and we still have a FA Trophy quarter-final to look forward to. There is growing belief in our club that we can end this season in style.”
Previous results: Valletta vs Bir-kirkara 2-1, 4-0.

Source - Times of Malta