Preview Day 14: Valletta vs Floriana Published on: 06-12-2014

Champions Valletta may be eight points clear of Floriana but they are not taking their neighbouring rivals lightly ahead of their second-round encounter this afternoon at the National Stadium (kick-off 4pm).It is often said that past form counts for nothing in derbies but both teams will have taken heart from their performances of late.
After a woeful start to the season,Valletta look to have rediscovered their sparkle, stringing up a fivematch winning run to rise to second in the table.
Floriana have endured a stopstart campaign but back-to-back wins over Sliema Wanderers in the league and cup in the space of three days, have enhanced optimism about their chances of ending their long winless streak against their chief adversaries.
With Hibs, who take on Sliema in today’s opening game, 12 points clear at the top, Valletta need no reminding that failure to take maximum points from the derby would all but snuff out their flickering title hopes before their direct duel with the Paolites tomorrow week.
Valletta captain Ryan Fenech acknowledged that the next two games have the potential to make or break their season.
“Our focus is on the derby,” Fenech told Times of Malta.“We all know that this game has special significance for the fans as well as the players.
“A win is vital for us to keep the pace with Hibernians.“If we fail to win the two next two games, our title chances would take a massive blow.
“On the other hand, if we take maximum points, we will be back in the title race.”
Although the pressure is on Valletta to revive their title challenge,Fenech stressed that the team’s improvement in the last two months has restored the feelgood factor.
“There’s a lot of self-belief that we can get a result against any team,” the Malta midfielder said.
“In the past, we often found it difficult to show our best against smaller teams but in recent matches, we have closed out the game early.
“Our performances over the past two months have enabled us to regain the respect and aura that were missing in the early stages of the season.”
With Floriana also in upbeat mood, hopes are high that today’s derby will unfold into a tight and combative encounter.
“Floriana are going through a positive spell but even if they weren’t, they will still pose a threat because this is a derby,” Fenech said.
“I believe that we have more quality and experience whereas Floriana have a lot of enthusiasm because they have young players. 
“In this aspect, I think we have an edge. We are also motivated to extend our long unbeaten run in derby games.”
Fenech talked up the importance of approaching the derby in the right frame of mind.
“The approach is crucial,” Fenech said. “Taking control of midfield is important because we are very solid in defence and in attack, our players have also shown their qualities in the last few games.
“We are strong in every department.” Valletta, who started their FA Trophy defence with a 7-1 rout of Division One side Birżebbuġa St Peter’s, have no selection problems. Floriana were involved in an Sliema on Wednesday, prevailing 5-4 on penalties after 120 minutes of football produced no goals.
Defender Andrè Scicluna is out of the equation after being handed a one-match ban but Gary Muir and Steve Bonnici return after being rested for the Trophy game.
Clyde Borg, the Floriana captain,is cautiously optimistic that the Greens can end their negative run against their rivals.
“Things have gone well for us this week,” Borg said. “The situation has been much better than the previous week as the 5-0 defeat to Hibs was hard to take.
“Our morale is high after we won two games against Sliema.“It’s high time that Floriana get a win over Valletta. This is a big game for both clubs and the atmosphere in and around the squad is different before the derby.
“We’re aware that Valletta have a strong team but we’re motivated to gain a good result. We want to do it for the people of Floriana.”
Consistency has eluded Floriana this season but, bar the 5-0 defeat to Hibs, their performances suggest that they have the potential to challenge for higher targets.
“We have a young squad,” Borg said. “We are still growing as a team but our performances this season augur well for the future.”
The capitulation to Hibs had not been expected as Floriana were coming from a 2-1 victory over Birkirkara before their meeting with the leaders.
Borg is convinced that Floriana will fare better against Valletta if they cut out the individual mistakes that marred their performance against Hibernians.
“In the match against Hibs, we conceded three goals in the first half but we made some stupid mistakes,” Borg said.
“There were many individualerrors and when you are playing against the top teams, you get punished.
“Games are often won in midfield, so we need to do well there, but if we manage to reduce the individual mistakes, we will improve our chances.” First round: Valletta vs Floriana 2-0.

Source - Times of Malta