Hibs out to stay in title hunt
Ħamrun Spartans part with Bozhov, Melita release Negrin
Hibernians entertain high hopes of getting back in winning groove in the BOV Premier League when they take on relegation candidates Melita at the Tedesco Stadium this evening (kick-off 6pm).
Bracketed among the leading contenders for the title on the back of their runner-up position in last season’s championship as well as their success in the U*Bet FA Trophy, Hibs are very much in contention as they are only two points adrift of leaders Birkirkara but theirs has been something of a stop-start campaign so far.
Their inconsistency was highlighted two weeks ago when Hibs slumped to a surprise 1-0 defeat to Qormi, a result that prevented the Paolites going top of the standings as Birkirkara dropped points against Balzan and Valletta went down to Mosta.
After the Qormi upset, Hibs did attain a boost as last Saturday, they began their FA Trophy defence with a 2-1 victory over Mosta.
With Birkirkara and Valletta in action tomorrow, Hibs will go top if they secure a three-point haul against Melita.
Woods is not expected to make significant changes to the team that started last weekend’s Trophy game.
Jackson Lima is still recovering from an abdominal problem but otherwise, all the Hibs players are available for selection with newly-signed Brazilian striker Allan Kardech again set to start ahead of fellow countryman Anderson Ribeiro.
Melita have fallen further off the pace in the Championship Pool race following their goalless draw against bottom side Rabat Ajax. Last weekend, the Reds stumbled at the first hurdle in the FA Trophy after losing 2-0 to Floriana.
This week, Melita parted company with Spanish striker Jose Luis Armaro Negrin, who had scored five goals in 13 league games. Coach Patxi Salinas is expected to recruit a couple of new foreigners in the coming weeks.
Karl Vella Petroni is out of today’s game due to suspension.
In the first round, Hibs beat Melita 3-1.
In the second game, fifth-placed Tarxien Rainbows will make a giant step towards securing a Championship Pool berth if they see off Ħamrun Spartans.
As far as the Spartans are concerned, only a victory would resurrect their flailing top-six bid after a dismal run of four straight defeats saw them drop to third from bottom.
Both sides failed to reach the last 16 of the FA Trophy as Tarxien succumbed to Birkirkara while Ħamrun lost to Valletta.
Apart from left-back Carlo Mamo, who is sidelined with a groin injury, Tarxien coach Clive Mizzi has no selection problems.
Ħamrun have terminated the contract of Nikolay Bozhov who is reportedly keen to return to his native Bulgaria.
Coach Stefan Sultana is likely to keep faith with the players who started Sunday’s 3-1 defeat to Valletta.
Ħamrun and Tarxien shared the honours in the first round following a 1-1 draw.
Meanwhile, the MFA Disciplinary Commissioner in midweek handed out a three-match ban to Bryan Agius, of Mosta.
Agius was sent off in the dying stages of Mosta’s 2-1 loss to Hibs after he was adjudged by referee Malcolm Spiteri to have pushed a ball boy in an excessive manner.
Mosta defender Luke Dimech received a one-match ban after he was sent off for two yellow cards in the first half of Saturday’s match.
As Mosta have been eliminated from the Trophy, Agius and Dimech must serve their bans in the league.
Birkirkara left-back Joseph Zerafa was given a one-match ban for his sending-off against Tarxien and will miss the last 16 tie against Qormi.
Premier League Programme
Today (Tedesco Stadium): 6pm Melita vs Hibs; 8.15pm Tarxien vs Ħamrun.
Tomorrow (National Stadium): 2pm Rabat vs Birkirkara; 4pm Qormi vs Valletta.
Monday (Tedesco Stadium): 6pm Floriana vs Balzan; 8.15pm Mosta vs Sliema Wanderers.
Today (Centenary Stadium): 6 pm Lija vs Marsaxlokk; 8 p.m. Vittoriosa vs Zejtun.