Sciriha urges fans to back team
O'Brien poised to join Valletta
Valletta's quest to recapture the Premier League title is still very much on track but expectations are so high that unconvincing performances in their last two matches have provoked the ire of their own fans.
Eight matches into the erstwhile topsy-turvy 2009/10 Premier League campaign, Valletta are second in the table, two points adrift of Qormi, the surprise early pace-setters, but in their last three matches, the Citizens have looked uncharacteristically vulnerable.
After slipping to their first league defeat at the hands of champions Hibs, Valletta fluffed a two-goal lead in the 2-2 draw with Tarxien.
On Saturday, the Whites again contrived to squander a two-goal cushion in their clash with Ħamrun but this time a second-half penalty by Doding Priso averted the loss of another two points.
Victor Sciriha, the president of Valletta FC, was visibly distraught after the game but he remains confident that his team will come good sooner rather than later.
"I'm disappointed with the performances of the team in the last two matches," Sciriha told The Times.
"The committee has been analysing the situation in the hope of identifying the reasons behind this dip in form. My impression is that the players are not expressing themselves because they are under excessive pressure.
"For the second match in a row, our team took an early 2-0 lead and in that period, our opponents hardly got a glimpse of our goal. In the game against Ħamrun, we wasted some excellent chances to score a third goal but then anxiety gripped our players as soon as we conceded the first goal. Fear of giving away a second goal has undermined our displays in the last outings.
"Another problem we have at the moment is that Terrence Scerri is not 100 per cent fit. This week he will have an MRI to discover the extent and nature of his ankle injury.
"As far as the squad is concerned, from this week the players will train everyday with our coach. I firmly believe that over the next four weeks Valletta will move forward."
Since taking over the reins of the club in the summer of 2007, Sciriha has nurtured an excellent relationship with the club's supporters.
While acknowledging that the fans have the right to show their disapproval when the team is not performing well, Sciriha was not pleased with the behaviour of some supporters during Saturday's match against Ħamrun Spartans.
"I'm going to organise a rally for the fans this week to address this situation," Sciriha said. "A group of fans opted to watch the second half from the south stand but I don't think that was the right thing to do.
"Valletta FC prides itself on having the best supporters in Malta. Throughout the history of the club, the fans have been our 12th player but they have to get behind the team when the going gets tough.
"I also get very frustrated when the team's performance leaves much to be desired and it's easy for me to say I've had enough but we must show maturity in the way we respond to adversity."
Rumours have been rife that the Valletta fans are up in arms over an alleged comment coach Ton Caanen directed at them during the second half on Saturday but Sciriha rejected such claims.
"Some fans complained about something the coach said during the second half but I think they took the wrong message," Sciriha said.
"I spoke to the coach after the match and he assured me that he didn't pass offensive remarks at the fans. If need be, Caanen is prepared to meet the fans to clear the air.
"Like the players, the coach is under pressure to deliver.
"Caanen was tense on Saturday because he couldn't believe that the team had again surrendered a two-goal lead. His reaction after the third goal was to encourage the fans to rally behind the players.
"Caanen is a professional and he is determined to be successful with Valletta. He's got great respect for the fans and he always expects them to give the players a boost, especially in difficult times.
"My message to the fans is to stay united. They know that I hold them in high esteem. Valletta FC is like one big family and we must remain like that."
Valletta's wobbles in their last matches may have dampened their fans' optimism but news that Irish striker Declan O'Brien is on the verge of joining their team should lift their spirits.
O'Brien, who netted two goals in St Patrick's Europa League games against Valletta, had a training stint with Floriana last month but the Citizens appear to have stolen a decisive march on their rivals.
"After terminating the contract of Geert den Ouden, we immediately started to look for a replacement," Sciriha said.
"I can now confirm that we have agreed terms with Declan O'Brien who is travelling to Malta tomorrow (today) to sign the contract.
"We are familiar with O'Brien because he scored twice against us in the Europa League. He's a proven scorer."
Valletta's pitch to sign O'Brien will not go down well with Floriana who had high hopes of acquiring the striker but Sciriha strenuously rebutted suggestions that they entered the chase for the Irishman after learning of their rivals' interest.
"It was the player who expressed an interest in joining Valletta," Sciriha said. "I received an email from O'Brien but when I asked him why he didn't get in touch with me when he was in Malta, he replied that it would have been unethical on his part to do that because he had been invited here by another club.
"The league in Ireland has just come to an end and O'Brien was offered a new contract by St Patrick's. He told me that a couple of Championship clubs in England were also interested in him but he has opted to join us because he was impressed with the quality of our players and also knows the coach."