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Ecstatic Micallef upbeat about Melita’s survival hopes

A day after his clinical finishing triggered arguably the biggest Premier League upset in the past three years, Luke Micallef was still at a loss to describe his feelings.

It was only after I scored that I realised that we were leading 2-1 with only a few minutes left

With Melita enjoying a rare taste of top-flight football following their promotion to the Premier League last seson as Division One champions, Micallef and his team-mates have struggled to find their feet in their elevated surroundings but on Sunday, the Amateurs became the talk of a nation after their giant-killing feat against Valletta.

And Micallef was their undisputed hero after hitting two carbon-copy goals which earned Melita a stunning 2-1 win over the much-fancied champions, an achievement coach Patxi Salinas described as “unsurpassable”.

Micallef showed remarkable poise and composure with two well-taken goals in the closing moments of each half to give Melita a timely boost in their bid to avoid relegation.

“I was very happy after the game,” Micallef, 22, told The Times.

“To be honest, I couldn’t believe it.

“Although I knew that we were facing a very strong team in Valletta, I approach every game with a positive mindset and I always try to give my 100 per cent.

“Everyone worked hard during the game and we were rewarded with a great result.

“Personally, I was overjoyed and surprised at the same time when I scored the second goal.

“I can’t put my feelings into words. I saw that there was a chance and I took it.

“It was only after I scored that I realised that we were leading 2-1 with only a few minutes left. It was unbelievable.”

Melita were justifiably ecstatic after recording their first ever win over Valletta but, more importantly, Sunday’s success should raise their morale and self-belief as they look to step up their bid to keep their Premier League status.

The Reds are still second from bottom on nine points but they have reduced the gap on Ħamrun Spartans to four. They lead bottom side Rabat Ajax by four points.

“This win will lift our spirits,” Micallef said. “I mean, we have won against Valletta and we really needed this kind of performance to strengthen our confidence and self-belief. I believe we can improve further after this result.

“The most important thing is that we have moved closer to Ħamrun in the standings. I’m still optimistic that we can stay in the Premier League, especially after this win.

“We also have to keep in mind that the points will be halved at the end of the second round and the bottom six teams will fight it out against relegation.”

Melita may not be one of the glamorous teams of Maltese football but they ought to be the darlings of the neutrals and purists as they are an amateur club.

In this context, Melita’s presence among the big boys is a feat in itself and their players certainly deserve immense credit for “playing for the love of the game”.

“This club is different from the others,” Micallef said. “There is a great atmosphere and there is not the kind of pressure that you’ll find at other clubs.

“Our squad is united. There’s the fun element but we know how to get serious when the serious stuff starts.

“My motivation to play for Melita comes from within. Money doesn’t come into the equation, we play for the club.

“We all try to help each other and my commitment is 100 per cent.”

Last month, Melita appointed Patxi Salinas, a former Celta Vigo and Athletic Bilbao player, as their coach following the resignation of Martin Gregory. The latter had done a great job to lift Melita out of Division Two and into the Premier League but the team’s initial struggles to adjust to the rigours of the top division prompted the former Malta midfielder to step aside.

To a large extent, Melita took a gamble when they handed the job to Salinas as the former Spain international had no experience of Maltese football. Melita have yet to make a quantum leap forward but results show that they are improving as they have won one and drawn two of the five matches since Salinas took over.

While praising Gregory for his contribution, Micallef says the Melita players are responding to Salinas’s philosophy.

“Martin Gregory did a lot for this team,” Micallef said. “Suffice to say, that he was the coach that guided us from the second division up to the Premier League in just a few years.

“The new coach has changed a few things. He works a lot on tactics, putting emphasis on how we must defend and attack as a team.

“He (Salinas) has a different mentality and knows the game very well. He varies the training and we do everything with the ball.

“I feel that his training methods have helped to improve my fitness.”

Melita still have a herculean task to avert relegation but Micallef is upbeat.

“We know it’s difficult because we’re a young team and our opponents have more experience at this level,” Micallef said.

“We always try to play our game as we believe that’s the only way forward.”

For all the euphoria about their win over Valletta, Melita can’t rest on their laurels, especially with another stern test looming when they face Sliema Wanderers on Friday.

“We will now start to think about the Sliema game on Friday,” Micallef said.

“In a way it’s a derby because Sliema are neighbours but our real derby rivals are Luxol (St Andrew’s).

“We will prepare for the next game as we did for the Valletta match and approach it with the same attitude.”

Premier league statistics

Scorers, red cards

Balzan FC: Elton 10 (2 pen); Pedrinho 5 (1 pen); Caruana 2, Licari 2; Mendy, Deanov, Pace, Forace, Camilleri.
Red cards: Conceicao (vs Ħamrun), Licari (vs Hibs), Pace (vs Sliema), Forace (vs Mosta).

Birkirkara: Mifsud Triganza 6, Jhonnattann 6 (1 pen); Vukanac 4; 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 4; 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 7 (2 pens); Cohen 5; Failla 4; Pulis 3, Ribeiro 3, Dias 3; Farrugia 2; Pisani, Soares, Levnaic, Nwoba, Kristensen, Camilleri.
Red cards: Muscat (vs Balzan), Dias (vs Balzan), Pulis (vs Tarxien, vs Mosta), Nwoko (vs Melita).

Melita: Negrin 5 (now Rabat); L. Micallef 4; Galea 2; Vukanic (pen), Sammut, Sierra Camacho.
Own goal: Pace (vs Balzan).
Red cards: Vukanic (vs Valletta), Sierra Camacho (vs Tarxien), Valenzia (vs Valletta).

Mosta: Obiefule 11 (1 pen); Mitev 5; Bogdanovic 3 (1 pen); Aboulezz 2, 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 2; Grech.

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

Sliema: Woods 8 (3 pens); Faccini 4; Ruggiero 3, Ciantar 3; Muchardi 2; El Ghaouti, Barbetti, A. Muscat, Timotic, Gatt Baldacchino, Laudisi, Mifsud.
Red cards: Scerri (vs Floriana), Bonello (vs Floriana).

Tarxien Rainbows: Bueno 8 (2 pens); Danilo 7; Evaldo 5; Andrezinho 4; 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; Leandro 2, Briffa 2; Caruana, Ricardo, Borg, Barbosa.
Own goal: Tufegdzic (vs Melita).

Next fixtures

Friday (Tedesco Stadium)
Melita vs Sliema W. - 18.00
Rabat vs Valletta - 20.15

Saturday (National Stadium)
Mosta vs Balzan - 14.00
Hibs vs Birkirkara - 16.00

Sunday (Hibs Stadium)
Tarxien vs Floriana - 14.00
Qormi vs Ħamrun S. - 16.00

Standings

  P W D L F A Pts
Hibernians 15 10 1 4 33 18 31
Valletta 15 8 5 2 31 12 29
Birkirkara 15 8 5 2 30 16 29
Tarxien 15 8 3 4 30 23 27
Sliema 15 8 2 5 27 16 26
Mosta 15 8 1 6 27 16 25
Floriana 15 5 5 5 23 21 20
Balzan 15 5 4 6 24 26 19
Qormi 15 5 2 8 20 27 17
Ħamrun 15 3 4 8 20 35 13
Melita 15 2 3 10 15 44 9
Rabat Ajax 15 0 5 10 9 35 5
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