Preview Day 28: Valletta vs Naxxar L Published on: 06-04-2015
Birkirkara’s 2-0 victory over Tarxien Rainbows on Saturday has ramped up the heat on Valletta ahead of their clash with Naxxar Lions with the champions needing a win to trim the gap on their rivals to one point in the race for second place.
The Citizens are on a four-match winning run but coach Ivan Zammit is aware that his team will not have an easy ride against Lions at the National Stadium this evening (kick-off 8pm).
“Naxxar Lions are a valid team,” Zammit told Times of Malta. “They have invested significantly in their foreigners and in Gilmar, they have one of the best overseas players in the Premier League.
“Gilmar can be a very dangerous customer for any defence. “I’m sure that Naxxar will do their best to make our life difficult but this is the beauty of football... every match can be keenly-contested.”
Now 12 points adrift of Hibs, Valletta are fighting for the platonic runner-up spot but also have an FA Trophy semi-final to look forward to.
The City followers are disappointed at their team’s failure to put up a strong challenge to defend the title but Zammit urged the fans not to turn their back on their team.
“At this stage, we are taking it game by game,” Zammit remarked. “We’ve been playing without a recognised striker for a number of games.
“We are also trying to give more first-team experience to our youngsters in preparation for next season but this approach demands patience.
“Last season, Valletta had strong foreigners but to sign players of that standard, you need to spend a lot on wages.
“This season, we’ve been offered several foreigners who, according to their agents, were very good but the reality was different.
“It’s a waste of time really and this is why I’d rather play a young player ahead of an average foreigner. “Our players have been doing their best this season. Let’s not forget that Valletta won the double last
year and, at this moment in time, we need our fans to stand by the team.”
Valletta have parted ways with Vladimir Savicevic after the son of former Milan stalwart Dejan Savicevic failed to impress Zammit since joining the club during in January.
For today’s match, Zammit has concerns over the fitness of captain Ryan Fenech and Ryan Camilleri but Dutch striker Djamel Leeflang is expected to make the squad after recovering from injury.
Naxxar Lions still have work to do to secure their Premier League status but back-to-back wins over relegation rivals Żebbuġ Rangers and Qormi and a 2-2 draw against leaders Hibs have significantly improved their chances of avoiding the drop.
The Lions have a difficult task to extend their positive run this evening but their revival of late will give them hope that they can take something from their clash with third-placed Valletta.
Jesmond Zerafa, the Naxxar Lions coach, knows that his former club start as favourites to collect the three points but he is happy with his team’s underdog status.
“Games against Valletta are always difficult,” Zerafa said. “They are the favourites while we have nothing to lose.
“Valletta are the stronger team but we will do everything possible to get a result. “We are not safe from relegation yet. Any points we manage to gain against the bigger teams will be a plus.
“Our objective is to try and ensure Premier League survival as early as possible.”
The return of Gilmar will boost Naxxar’s optimism ahead of today’s match after the Brazilian livewire missed the Hibs game through suspension.
Naxxar look well-placed to accomplish their mission after climbing up to seventh in the table on 18 points, six clear of the relegation zone.
“We have won two direct encounters and that has made a big ifference,” Zerafa said. “A win against a relegation rival is a six-pointer. I’m very pleased about the team’s recovery in the last month but there’s a very thin line between success and failure when you are in a relegation battle.
“Had we lost the games against Żebbuġ and Qormi, we would probably be bottom of the table now but the team has done an amazing job in taking seven points from our last three games.”
Naxxar have a negative head-tohead record against Valletta after losing the previous two games 2-0 and 3-0.
Source: Times of Malta