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Hard work the secret behind Floriana revival – Azzopardi

Season 2012-13 has been a topsy-turvy campaign so far for Premier League club Floriana.

A summer of changes saw the exit of several established players and the arrival of former England defender Mark Wright as first team coach.

The start was anything but rosy and the sudden departure of Wright complicated matters further until Stephen Azzopardi was convinced to revive the Greens’ campaign after his departure from Qormi FC.

Azzopardi took his time to settle in his new environs, picking just one point from a possible 12 but despite continuous criticism, he stuck to the task and his persistency seems to have been rewarded as the team soon clicked into gear.

Identical 2-0 victories over Sliema Wanderers and Ħamrun Spartans put Floriana back in the running for a top-six finish and, on Monday, they enhanced their prospects with another con-vincing 3-1 victory over the in-form Balzan who had not lost a match in eight Premier League outings.

“Much of the credit should go to the players,” Azzopardi told The Times yesterday.

“When I accepted the job almost two months ago I found a team that was in a poor physical shape and lacking any kind of tactical organisation.

“There was a lot of work to be done on the training pitch.

“However, despite the increase in intensity in our sessions the players pulled their socks up and worked relentlessly each time they were called into action.

“Our work ethic has been superb and we’re now benefiting from the sheer hard work put in by the squad.

“I also have to mention the contribution of Floriana’s young players and their willingness to improve.

“Their input has been outstanding to the extent that several times they made the team at the expense of more experien-ced players.”

South America flair

Among the top performers for Floriana in the last few weeks were new Brazilian imports Henrique Celestino and Igor Coronado.

Celestino’s arrival has added much-needed solidity to a defensive department that has conceded just one goal in the last four matches while Coronado’s speed and flair bolstered the team’s attacking power by no small measure.

“Igor and Henrique could not have come to us at a better time,” Azzopardi said.

“They were here for a trial at a time when the club had just parted ways with English players Francis Jeffers and Aaron Brown.

“We knew they would both be great additions for Floriana and now they are showing us their true worth.

“Igor, in particular, has been outstanding. At 20 years of age he is a player of great promise and has the potential to play in a bigger competition than ours.”

Despite the recent positive showings, Azzopardi is aware that Floriana still have a lot of work to do to maintain their charge for a Championship Pool finish.

Next up for Azzopardi is a meeting with his former club Birkirkara.

The Greens coach is already geared up for the challenge.

“Our road towards Champion-ship Pool football is still long and with a lot of pitfalls,” Azzopardi said.

“We have eight finals coming up, starting with a match against Birkirkara this weekend. They start favourites given their high position at the moment but we’re not too disheartened with our prospects either.

“Confidence is high in our team right now and our per-formances are improving with every match.

“I know, if we play the way we did in our last three matches we can play anyone in the Premier League.”

Statistics

Scorers, red cards

Balzan FC: Elton 8 (2 pen); Pedrinho 5 (1 pen); Caruana 2, Licari 2; Mendy, Deanov, Pace, Forace.
Red cards: Conceicao (vs Ħamrun), Licari (vs Hibs), Pace (vs Sliema), Forace (vs Mosta).

Birkirkara: Mifsud Triganza 6, Jhonnattann 6 (1 pen); Vukanac 3; Shodiya 3 (2 pens); R. Muscat 2, Joselito 2, Sciberras 2; Camenzuli 2; Fenech, Z. Muscat, Scicluna.
Red cards: Scicluna (vs Balzan), Fenech (vs Ħamrun), Herrera (vs Qormi).

Floriana: Darmanin 8; Wasiu 4; Verma 3; Cilia 2; Alhinho, Brown, Jeffers, Spiteri, Coronado.
Red cards: Brown (vs Rabat), K. Farrugia (vs Mosta), Alhinho (vs Hibs).

Ħamrun Spartans: Grima 5 (3 pens); Vella 4; Calabretta 3; Scerri, Bozhov, Zerafa, Spiteri, Camilleri (pen), Yoshev, Fenech. Own goal: Gribbon (vs Melita).
Red cards: Fenech (vs Floriana), Cassar (vs Tarxien), Vitanov (vs Sliema).

Hibernians: Lima 6 (2 pens); Cohen 5; Pulis 3, Failla 3, Dias 3; Farrugia 2; Pisani, Soares, Levnaic, Nwoba, Ribeiro.
Red cards: Muscat (vs Balzan), Dias (vs Balzan), Pulis (vs Tarxien, vs Mosta), Nwoko (vs Melita).

Melita: Negrin 5 (now Rabat); L. Micallef 2, Galea 2; Vukanic (pen), Sammut, Sierra Camacho. Own goal: Pace (vs Balzan).
Red cards: Vukanic (vs Valletta), Sierra Camacho (vs Tarxien).

Mosta: Obiefule 9 (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 6; Pisani 4; Spiteri 3; Siritto 2, Thackray 2; Chetcuti, Grech.

Rabat Ajax: Astrauskas 2, Fuster 2; Smeir, Carapic, Borg, Felice, Negrin.
Red cards: Borg (vs Floriana), Brincat (vs Sliema Wanderers).

Sliema: Woods 7 (2 pens); Ruggiero 3, Ciantar 3; Muchardi 2, Faccini 2; El Ghaouti, Barbetti, A. Muscat, Timotic, Gatt Baldacchino, Laudisi, Mifsud.
Red cards: Scerri (vs Floriana), Bonello (vs Floriana).

Tarxien Rainbows: Danilo 7; Bueno 6 (2 pens); Evaldo 4; Andrezinho 3; Anonam 2; Tanti 2; Pulo, Bonnici.
Red cards: Danilo (vs Sliema), Evaldo (vs Birkirkara).

Valletta: Mifsud 11 (2 pens); Gabriel 5; Denni 3, Fenech 3; Briffa 2; Caruana, Ricardo, Borg, Barbosa, Leandro.
Own goal: Tufegdzic (vs Melita).

Fixtures, standings

Friday (Tedesco Stadium)
Ħamrun vs Mosta - 18.00
Hibernians vs Rabat - 20.15

Saturday (National Stadium)
Sliema vs Qormi - 14.00
Birkirkara vs Floriana - 16.00

Sunday (Hibs Stadium)
Balzan vs Tarxien - 14.00
Valletta vs Melita - 16.00

  P W D L F A Pts
Valletta 14 8 5 1 30 10 29
Birkirkara 14 8 4 2 29 15 28
Hibernians 14 9 1 4 27 18 28
Tarxien 14 7 3 4 26 20 24
Sliema 14 7 2 5 24 15 23
Mosta 14 7 1 6 24 16 22
Floriana 14 5 4 5 22 20 19
Balzan 14 5 4 5 21 22 19
Qormi 14 5 2 7 19 24 17
Ħamrun 14 3 4 7 20 32 13
Melita 14 1 3 10 13 43 6
Rabat Ajax 14 0 5 9 9 29 5
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