Preview Day 30: Valletta vs Floriana Published on: 09-04-2016
There is no mistaking the heightened sense of anticipation ahead of the derby showdown between Valletta and neighbouring rivals Floriana this afternoon.
The stakes are high for both teams as Valletta, six points clear at the summit, are gunning for Premier League glory while Floriana, for whom only a win would keep their flickering top-four hopes alive, will doubtless be relishing the prospect of putting a spanner in their rivals’ title pursuit.
With four games left, Valletta need no reminding that victory would take them within touching distance of their 23rd top-flight crown but coach Paul Zammit knows that a tough test awaits his team.
“As you approach the end of the season, the games become more and more important,” Zammit told the Times of Malta. “Derby matches have a special meaning for the fans and this one has taken on added significance because of our title challenge.
“It will be a tough game because Floriana will also be motivated to win but we have shown this season that we have the attributes needed to surpass difficult hurdles.”
A remarkable sequence of 17 wins and a draw from their last 18 league outings sees Valletta head into the derby brimming with optimism. It is this consistency that has reinforced Zammit’s conviction that Valletta can go all the way.
“We have been through many difficult tests this season,” Zammit said. “In the first round, the aim was to gauge ourselves against the other teams and, although not everything was rosy, our performances instilled a belief that we had what it takes to embark on a positive run of results.
“Consistency has been the key and our players deserve a lot of credit for their incredible ommitment
and concentration. “We have done well to keep the pace but the moment of truth has arrived.
“The next four games will make or break our season. The onus is on us to show that we deserve to be crowned champions.”
Valletta’s title mettle will surely be put to the test by Floriana whose motivation to end their nine-year wait for a derby win in the league will be further fuelled by their desire to enrich the festive mood among their fans on the eve of the feast of St Publius, the town’s patron saint.
Zammit believes his players have got the resolve and fortitude to rise to the challenge.
“I have a lot of respect for Floriana,” Zammit said. “They have shown considerable improvement from last season. “In games like this, apart from the tactical and technical aspects, personality plays a big role. “We know that Floriana will be fired up to win but we are also aware of our strengths.”
The absence of flank defender Ryan Camilleri, suspended, means that Zammit must make at least one change from the 2-0 victory over Tarxien Rainbows. Italian midfielder Claudio Pani is in line for a first-team recall as he has been training normally after recovering from the rib injury he suffered in the 2-1 victory over Mosta.
Floriana coach Luis Oliveira is without first-choice goalkeeper Matthew Calleja Cremona who received a one-match ban after his contentious sending-off in the 3-1 defeat to Hibernians last weekend.
He will be replaced by youngster Matthew Grech. Italian defender Enrico Pepe is also set to miss out as he has yet to recover from injury.
Oliveira, who begins a two-match touchline ban following his expulsion during the Hibs game, said Floriana have nothing to lose.
“We keep saying that this is our last chance but every time we have to suffer either because they send off one of our players or because a goal is annulled,” Oliveira said.
“This game represents our last hope (for a top-four finish) but, compared to Valletta who are fighting for the title, we have nothing to lose.
“We will play this game as if it was a title decider and we will be giving our all to win. It’s not going to be easy but we are determined to break this derby jinx.”
His lamentations about refereeing decisions aside, Oliveira admitted that his team can only prevail in the derby if they avoid the concentration lapses that have proved costly lately.
“Like I told my players, concentration is crucial,” Oliveira said. “In the game against Hibs, a misunderstanding between two of our players led to their equaliser. We can’t make these kind of mistakes because we are getting punished.
“This has been the difference between us and the other teams this season. “We are also missing a lot of chances.
“Our players know exactly what Valletta’s strengths are but if we keep committing the same mistakes, it becomes very difficult because we always have to chase the game.
“If you look at our matches, we tend to struggle to keep our lead for 10 minutes and that boils down to concentration.”
Oliveira’s absence from the touchline is seen as a setback for Floriana but the coach had one important message for his players. “The only thing that interests me is that the players keep fighting until the very end,” Oliveira said.
“We have a strong squad, the other teams don’t like to play against us, but our players need to believe in their collective abilities.”
Previous results: Valletta vs Floriana 3-1, 2-1
Source - Times of Malta
Source - Times of Malta