Birkirkara coach Zammit lauds players’ character
Birkirkara’s build-up to their clash with fellow high-fliers Mosta had been anything but plainsailing but the Stripes showed character to pull off an important 1-0 win that lifted them within striking distance of leaders Valletta.
With the Citizens having failed to gather maximum points for the third game in a row, the pressure was on Birkirkara to capitalise on their rivals’ latest slip-up but injuries and suspensions complicated matters for coach Paul Zammit.
A tight match in which Birkirkara were the better team was decided by Jhonnattann’s penalty early in the second half, much to the satisfaction of Zammit who was full of praise for the way his players reacted to adversity.
“It was a difficult week for us due to different factors,” Zammit told The Times. “We were coming from an unconvincing performance against Qormi, a match in which we lost the three points in the dying moments... and by saying so, I don’t want to detract from the merits of Qormi who managed to grab a late equaliser.
“For a team that has high expectations of challenging at the top, this kind of setback inevitably increased the pressure on the players.
“To rub salt into the wound, we had Gareth Sciberras and Edward Herrera suspended plus injuries to Joselito and Shola (Haruna). These absences stretched our resources to the limit.
“The prospect of facing a direct challenger like Mosta added to the pressure.
“We prepared for the game with a positive attitude because we knew we had to meet the challenge head-on.
“Credit goes to the players because they showed their character.
“It was not easy as we had three U-20 players in the starting line-up and all the substitutes were youngsters but those who played showed great resilience... the players rose to the occasion.”
The defeat of Mosta enabled Birkirkara to narrow the gap on Valletta to two points at the end of the first round after the champions were held to a 1-1 draw by Sliema on Friday.
Asked if Valletta’s latest blip had turned up the heat on Birkirkara, Zammit replied: “Although it’s a fact that Valletta had dropped points and we therefore had another chance to stay in touch with them, that was not the main thing on my mind going into the match against Mosta.
“Our aim in the first round was to gauge the potential of the squad and keep our position in the top part of the table.
“The victory over Mosta has allowed us to edge closer to Valletta but our foremost objective was to atone for our performance against Qormi and to show that we have the character to bounce back from setbacks.
“The league has another full round remaining before the start of the decisive phase of the championship... there’s still a long way to go in so far as the title race is concerned.”
“I’m happy with many things that we’ve done in the first round,” Zammit added.
“I’m satisfied with the attitude of the players and the whole structure and set-up of the club. This season we’re trying to work with a mentality that is different from the amateur way.
“Maltese football is very close to my heart and we all talk about our wish to raise its level but we can’t do that unless we improve the structure at club level.”
Scorers, red cards
Balzan FC: Elton 6 (2 pen); Pedrinho 4; Mendy, Licari, Deanov, Caruana, Pace.
Red cards: Conceicao (vs Ħamrun), Licari (vs Hibs), Pace (vs Sliema), Forace (vs Mosta).
Birkirkara: Mifsud Triganza 5, Jhonnattan 5 (1 pen); Shodiya 3 (2 pens); Muscat 2, Joselito 2, Vukanac 2; Camenzuli, Fenech.
Red cards: Scicluna (vs Balzan), Fenech (vs Ħamrun), Herrera (vs Qormi)
Floriana: Darmanin 6; Cilia 2, Verma 2, Wasiu 2; Alhinho, Brown, Jeffers.
Red cards: Brown (vs Rabat), K. Farrugia (vs Mosta), Alhinho (vs Hibs).
Ħamrun Spartans: Grima 5 (3 pens); Vella 3; Calabretta 2, Scerri, Bozhov, Zerafa, Spiteri, Camilleri (pen), Yoshev.
Own goal: Gribbon (vs Melita).
Red cards: Fenech (vs Floriana), Cassar (vs Tarxien), Vitanov (vs Sliema).
Hibernians: Lima 6 (2 pens); Cohen 4; Dias 3; Pulis 2; Pisani, Soares, Levnaic, Nwoba, Farrugia, Ribeiro.
Red cards: Muscat (vs Balzan), Dias (vs Balzan), Pulis (vs Tarxien).
Melita: Negrin 5; L. Micallef 2, Galea 2; Vukanic (pen), Sammut. Own goal: Pace (vs Balzan).
Red cards: Vukanic (vs Valletta), Sierra Camacho (vs Tarxien).
Mosta: Obiefule 8 (1 pen); Mitev 5; Aboulezz 2, Bogdanovic 2 (1 pen), Zongo 2 (1 pen); Bajada, Campagnoli, Apap. Own goal: Bello-Osagie (vs Qormi).
Red cards: Grech (vs Sliema), Aboulezz (vs Floriana), Dimech (vs Balzan).
Qormi: Bello-Osagie 4, Pisani 4; Spiteri 3; Thackray 2; Chetcuti, Siritto.
Rabat Ajax: Astrauskas 2; Fuster, Smeir, Carapic, Borg.
Red cards: Borg (vs Floriana), Brincat (vs Sliema Wanderers).
Sliema Wanderers: Woods 7 (2 pens); Ruggiero 3, Ciantar 3; Muchardi 2, Faccini 2; El Ghaouti, Barbetti, A. Muscat, Timotic.
Tarxien Rainbows: Danilo 7; Bueno 5 (1 pen); Evaldo 2, Andrezinho 2; Tanti, Pulo, Bonnici.
Red cards: Danilo (vs Sliema), Evaldo (vs Birkirkara).
Valletta: Mifsud 10 (2 pens); Gabriel 5; Fenech 3; Briffa 2, Denni 2; Caruana, Ricardo, Borg, Barbosa. Own goal: Tufegdzic (vs Melita).
Saturday (Tedesco Stadium)
14.00 Melita vs Birkirkara
16.15 Balzan vs Ħamrun Spartans
Sunday (Hibs Stadium)
14.00 Qormi vs Rabat Ajax
16.00 Tarxien Rainbows vs Valletta
Monday (Tedesco Stadium)
18.00 Mosta vs Hibs
20.15 Floriana vs Sliema Wanderers