Birkirkara wary of St Andrews
Birkirkara’s quest to win the FA Trophy faces a tricky start this evening as they square up to St Andrews in one of only two third-round clashes between Premier League sides.
Although the Stripes, who have five KO triumphs to their name, carry the favourites’ tag, they will certainly not underestimate St Andrews who held them to a 1-1 draw when the two sides last met in the championship earlier this month.
On that occasion, Birkirkara needed a stoppage-time goal from substitute Matteo Desira Buttigieg to rescue a point after St Andrews had taken a first-half lead through Enmy Manuel Pena Beltre.
Drazen Besek, the Birkirkara coach, is bracing himself for another stern challenge from St Andrews in today’s do-or-die duel.
“This is a one-chance game,” Besek told Times of Malta. “It’s a KO match and the only result that counts is a win.
“For us, it will certainly not be easy.
“This is our second game against the same team in a short period of time.
“We are aware that it’s going to be a difficult test as, in our previous meeting with St Andrews, we scored in the last minute to save a point.”
Midfielder Edmond Agius has resumed training with the squad as he steps up his rehabilitation from back surgery. Otherwise, Besek has no selection worries.
“We need to be confident as there is no second chance in the FA Trophy,” the Croatian added.
“We know against who we’re playing but we also believe in our qualities and our work.
“I’m sure that our performance will be a lot better than in our last league match against St Andrews.”
Two draws and a defeat in their previous three league outings had cranked up the pressure on Birkirkara but they gleaned a much-needed boost last Saturday with a 3-1 victory over Tarxien Rainbows.
By contrast, St Andrews failed to build on their spirited display against Birkirkara as they succumbed to a 4-1 loss to Floriana.
Danilo Doncic, the St Andrews coach, has no qualms about his team’s underdog status.
“The Trophy is a totally different competition,” Doncic said.
“KO ties can be unpredictable as they are decided on the day, so anything can happen.
“This could be an advantage for a small team like us as, maybe, on the day, we can repeat our best performances in some of our recent league games and cause a surprise.
“Birkirkara are the absolute favourites, there’s no doubt about that, but you never know.
“We will try to take our chances and give our maximum to progress to the next round.”
The Saints were flying high going into their league encounter with Floriana but everything went wrong on Saturday as, after levelling matters at 1-1 early on, they had Michael Johnson sent off and conceded a second goal from a penalty late in the first half.
To rub salt into their wounds, they missed a penalty of their own early in the second half and had Karlo Kesinovic expelled nine minutes from time, but the Croatian defender and Johnson are both available for today’s KO tie.
Doncic described St Andrews’ performance against Floriana as the worst since taking over the team last month.
“It was our worst game since my arrival,” Doncic said.
“The circumstances were difficult for us as everyone could see that the penalty decision, which led to Johnson’s dismissal, was wrong. That episode killed the game.
“But, we can always learn from defeats like this and make an extra effort not to repeat the same mistakes.”
Doncic, who served the first of a two-match touchline league ban last Saturday but will be able to take his place in the dug-out today, is still without Liechtenstein winger Daniel Brandle but all the other players are available for selection.
The St Andrews-Birkirkara clash is one of 16 third-round matches spread over several weeks. With the 12 Premier League clubs entering the fray in the third round, interest in this season’s KO competition is bound to rise as the race to lift the brand new FA Trophy silverware come May heats up.
Also today, Hibernians, 10-times FA Trophy winners, face Division One high-fliers Senglea Athletic.
Senglea thrashed Gozitan side Xagħra United 7-1 in the second round.
Sliema Wanderers, the holders who have won the FA Trophy a record 21 times, take on fellow top-flight team Mosta in the second all-Premier League encounter tomorrow.
The two teams experienced contrasting fortunes in their last league outings as Sliema went down 3-1 to Hibs while Mosta figured in a creditable goalless draw against Valletta.
Sliema and Mosta drew 1-1 in their first-round league match.
Playing today – Tedesco Stadium
18.00 Senglea Athletic vs Hibernians
20.15 St Andrews vs Birkirkara
Tomorrow – Centenary Stadium
19.00 Marsa vs Xewkija Tigers
Tomorrow – Tedesco Stadium
18.00 Pietà Hotspurs vs Lija Athletic
20.15 Sliema Wanderers vs Mosta