Preview: Day 28 vs Sliema W Published on: 29-03-2014
Valletta’s failure to overcome Birkirkara last week left them two points off the top but the 0-0 stalemate felt more like a point gained rather than two lost in light of the Citizens’ insipid performance in the much-awaited showdown.
Whatever the misgivings about their disjointed efforts against the team they hope to usurp as champions, the undeniable truth is that Valletta are still very much alive in the title race but one false step would probably ruin their chances.
As Valletta have discovered to their cost, there are no easy games in the Championship Pool after drawing three of their last five matches.
Having failed to beat Sliema Wanderers in their last two meetings, Valletta must be bracing themselves for another difficult game against the Blues tomorrow at the National Stadium (kick-off 4pm).
Coach Andre Paus admitted that Valletta’s last match left a lot to be desired, especially in the opening half.
“In many games, you have time to think about your next move but when you’re playing against a strong opponent, you must think and act quicker,” Paus told Times of Malta.
“Birkirkara are a strong team. They are well-organised and apply a lot of pressure on their opponents.
“When you pick the right pass or make the right move despite having less time to think, that’s a sign of a good player. I think the players were surprised that they found it so difficult to show their usual form against Birkirkara.
“A positive aspect was that we didn’t give many chances away. We did well at the back but I felt that we had two to three players well below their best.
“If you want to beat a team like Birkirkara, every player must be at the top of his game on the day.”
Despite the below-par showing, Paus has backed his team to lift their levels tomorrow.
Paus said: “We must win our next games to stay in touch with Birkirkara. Hibs have narrowed the gap in third place but it doesn’t matter... we have to focus on ourselves.
“First place is what really counts as second and third mean qualification to the Europa League. The players must believe that they can do it but it’s important that everyone gives more than 100 per cent.”
Midfielder Edmond Agius is suspended while captain Ryan Fenech is doubtful as he is nursing a knee injury.
It remains to be seen whether Paus will hand a first-team recall to Denni as the Brazilian’s absence from the squad last weekend left many at the stadium perplexed.
There had been talk that Denni’s omission owed to contract issues with the club after his move to Malaysia fell through but Paus insisted that it was a technical decision.
“I don’t like to talk about individuals,” the Dutch coach said.
“Of course, you always need special players but I look at the performance of the team.
“Results in football are often decided by teamwork. Reliability is also important as every player must be able to carry out different tasks during the game.
“I want players who put the team first, players who show me that they can be trusted to do their duties.
We have given a chance to all the foreign players but they have to grab the opportunity every time they are on the pitch. There’s competition for places.”
While Valletta are determined to win to keep Birkirkara in sight, the Wanderers need the three points to strengthen their chances of finishing fourth, a position they currently share with Mosta.
Alfonso Greco, the Sliema coach, conceded that his team’s hopes of a top-three finish are slim after the 3-1 loss to the Paolites left them six points adrift with five games remaining.
The absence of Stanley Ohawuchi, the league’s joint top scorer with 19 goals, is a setback for Sliema who have a shortage of attacking options after Abubakar Bello-Osagie was ruled out until the end of the season following knee surgery.
On the plus side, captain Alex Muscat and playmaker Admir Vladavic are back in the frame after serving suspension.
Greco also has concerns about midfielder Mark Scerri who is carrying a long-term injury.
Source - Times of Malta