Preview Day 16: Valletta vs Hibs Published on: 19-12-2015
The battle for supremacy reaches fever point tomorrow when Premier League joint-leaders Hibernians and Valletta go head to head at the National Stadium (kick-off: 4pm).
These two teams have been the most consistent so far, opening a five-point lead over nearest rivals Birkirkara and Floriana. They come into this fixture on the back of a strong run of results.
Hibs have won their last five matches, hitting in an impressive 19 goals in the process as the champions seem to have rediscovered their scoring prowess that epitomised their title success last season.
On the other hand, Valletta picked maximum spoils from their last four matches, conceding just two goals as the pragmatic Paul Zammit has transformed the Citizens into an all-round solid outfit.
Nisevic does not think that this match will have a huge bearing on the title race but admitted that whoever wins will gain a huge psychological tonic.
“Matches between Hibernians and Valletta have always turned out to be fascinating contests and this one will be no different,” Nisevic told Times of Malta.
“It’s still early days to label this match as a title decider. But victory will be a huge boost for either side.
“Last season we also played Valletta at this time of the year and I told my players that winning that match made a massive difference in our season as we went into the Christmas holidays with added belief that we could win the league and so it was.”
Nisevic will have to do without three key players as goalkeeper Jurgen Borg and defender Andrei Agius must serve a one-match ban while Rodolfo Soares is still out with a hamstring strain.
Valletta’s rise in the standings may have raised a few eyebrows given that the side was in a ‘transition’ period following the appointment of Zammit as coach in summer.
Nisevic is not surprised by Valletta’s competiveness this season.
“From the start I knew they would be among the main challengers as they have great potential in the side,” the Serbian reckoned.
“Naturally, at first it was tough but once the team started to settle down Valletta improved significantly and now Paul Zammit is reaping all the fruit of the hard work put in by him and his players.
“I have first-hand experience on how good Paul Zammit can be as a coach. I worked with him before and I know how much he goes into detail to get the best out of his team. I have great respect for him and he deserves credit for how good his team have done this season.”
Zammit goes into tomorrow’s match with a full squad as striker Jhonnattann is now completely fit from a wrist injury.
Valletta’s pedigree gained strength in the last fortnight after beating Birkirkara (4-0) and a hard-earned victory over Balzan (2-1).
Zammit, however, knows this will be his team’s biggest test in the second round.
“This is a massive match for us,” Zammit said.
“Hibernians are the defending champions and boast the strongest squad in the league so they represent the perfect opponents to gauge our quality to challenge for the honours.
“I am very pleased with the progress we’ve made. If you look from where we started in summer and today the improvement has been exceptional.
“But we can’t stop here so I’m urging my players to rise to the challenge as another satisfactory result will instill more confidence in us and make us believe that we can really be major contenders.”
Zammit’s aim at the start of the season was to put Valletta back among the main challengers and irrespective of what happens tomorrow he is determined to reach that goal.
“The outcome of this match will have not bearing on our future ambitions,” he contended.
“In summer, we embarked on a project as we sought to assemble a strong squad. So, whatever happens this weekend we will continue on that road.
“We’re mulling our options and we’ll probably add a couple of reinforcements next month to add depth to our squad. For sure, we won’t do anything to harm the balance that exists in our squad.”
Source - Times of Malta