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Embattled Valletta desperate to arrest slump

Valletta midfielder William Barbosa forces his way past Andrew Caruana Scicluna, of Melita, during Sunday’s match at the Hibs Stadium. Photo: Darrin Zammit Lupi

Valletta midfielder William Barbosa forces his way past Andrew Caruana Scicluna, of Melita, during Sunday’s match at the Hibs Stadium. Photo: Darrin Zammit Lupi

Still reeling from their shock 2-1 defeat to Melita, Valletta are desperate to restore a semblance of normality when they face bottom side Rabat Ajax this evening.

It’s a measure of City’s lacklustre form and wavering confidence that they are approaching this evening’s fixture with heightened apprehension.

After all, Rabat were the team that sparked Valletta’s inexplicable freefall as, since drawing 1-1 with the Magpies, the champions have only won once in their last six games and are currently second in the table, two points adrift of Hibs.

Their upset to Melita only deepened Valletta’s predicament as, apart from his team’s on-field struggles, coach Mark Miller is also wrestling with an injury crisis.

Besides, their build-up for today’s must-win clash with Rabat has been slightly overshadowed by the fierce opposition expressed by some fans at the club’s attempts to re-sign Luke Dimech, currently with Mosta.

Valletta president Victor Sciriha took the unusual step of addressing the fans’ concerns on the supporters’ internet forum, explaining that the club’s pursuit of Dimech is aimed at strengthening the defence. Sciriha also wrote that Dimech, who is also reportedly a target for Hibs, is eager to play for Valletta despite his acrimonious exit from the club in the final weeks of 2009/10.

Although Miller is believed to be very keen on Dimech, the City coach will put this issue to one side this evening as he looks to arrest his team’s slump.

His resources are diluted by the absence of Brazilians Ricardo and William Barbosa, who sustained injuries in the second half of last Sunday’s match, and defender Steve Borg. Jonathan Caruana and Michael Mifsud are both doubtful.

On the positive side, captain Roderick Briffa is back after serving a one-match ban.

Rabat had done well to hold the Citizens in the first round but that showing failed to inspire a revival as the Magpies are still rooted to the bottom with five points. Last week, they were on the receiving end of a 6-0 drubbing at the hands of Hibs.

Coach Silvio Vella is hoping to receive the all-clear to include a Spanish striker who has been training with his team this week.

Spanish midfielder Manuel Fuster is set to return after shaking off a knock but Serbian defender Ivan Carapic is suspended while Clive Brincat and Adam Smeir are still on the injured list.

In today’s curtain-raiser, Sliema will be chasing their third win on the trot when they face Melita.

The Blues hammered Melita 4-0 in the first round but the latter’s disciplined performance against Valletta will surely have caused Sliema coach Alfonso Greco to sit up and take notice.

“I watched Melita’s game against Valletta and they have improved their tactical organisation,” Greco said. “They are more concentrated in defence. From our side, we will be looking to extend our positive run but Melita will be high on confidence. It will be a tough match.”

Goalkeeper Henry Bonello and wing-back John Mintoff are out of the equation.

Melita coach Patxi Salinas must make one change from the Valletta game as Michael Valenzia joined Nigel Rizzo on the sidelines after receiving a three-match ban.

Salinas is upbeat about Melita’s survival hopes.

“If I didn’t believe (in the team’s chances of avoiding relegation), I would have never accepted to become their coach,” Salinas said.

“I believe in it 100 per cent.”

Asked about his impressions of Maltese football, Salinas said: “It’s totally different from Spanish football, but it’s very interesting and all teams are very balanced. I like it.”

Programme

Today (Tedesco Stadium): 6pm Melita vs Sliema W.; 8.15pm Rabat vs Valletta.

Tomorrow (National Stadium): 2pm Mosta vs Balzan; 4pm Hibs vs Birkirkara.

Sunday (Hibs Stadium): 2pm Tarxien vs Floriana; 4pm Qormi vs Ħamrun.

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