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Zammit keeps the faith

Hibernians coach Miller predicts close encounter

Birkirkara forward Terence Vella holds off Hibs’ Clayton Failla. Photo: Stephen Gatt

Birkirkara forward Terence Vella holds off Hibs’ Clayton Failla. Photo: Stephen Gatt

A meagre return of four points from their last four games has cranked up the pressure on Birkirkara ahead of their clash with the high-flying Hibs at the latter’s stadium in Corradino on Sunday (4 p.m.).

Although it is still early to write off the title chances of any side holding a top-five position, Birkirkara already face a massive task as they trail leaders Valletta by 14 points.

The quest for the championship crown is probably the least of Birkirkara’s concerns as their foremost priority is to make sure of a Championship Pool place.

The absences of captain Paul Fenech, Moises Avila Perez and Shawn Bajada, all suspended, have further complicated matters for Birkirkara before their meeting with the Paolites but coach Paul Zammit insisted that now is the time for his team to show character.

“I believe that successful people in every sphere of life show what they’re made of in difficult times,” Zammit said.

“Although, strictly speaking, we are not getting the desired results on a consistent basis, we can’t discard the good things we’ve been working on.

“As I’ve always said, I have faith in the potential of these players.

“Everyone is conscious that we are lacking consistency, not only in terms of results, but also in our performances during games.

“Nevertheless, I am confident that, together, we can come through this difficult moment.”

Apart from the suspended trio, Zammit is concerned about the fitness of Rowen Muscat and Dragan Perisic, both suffering from hamstring problems, while Angus Buhagiar is ranked as doubtful.

Terence Vella picked up a knock in the Mosta draw but he should be available for Sunday’s game.

Zammit reckons that his team will have their work cut out by Hibs.

“We’re in for a very difficult match as Hibs have been the most consistent team,” Zammit said.

“They’re the only side that have not suffered defeat so far... their position in the table doesn’t lie. Although we have several players missing, we’re still going to field 11 players who are capable of facing this challenge but it’s also clear that our options are very restricted.”

Hibs’ situation is far rosier than that of the Stripes as the unbeaten Paolites are second, only three points adrift of Valletta.

Despite being without a host of key players, Hibs maintained their unblemished record last weekend with a 2-0 win over Marsaxlokk.

Mark Miller, the Hibs coach, offered a mixed assessment of his team’s display against Marsaxlokk.

“The performance could have been better but it could have been worse,” Miller said. “There is room for improvement but this game gave me the opportunity to see the young players. We had seven on the bench and five who played.

“We played a weak team but we won comfortably. It was a game where we had everything to lose and nothing to win, so it was good in that aspect.”

The Paolites may be 11 points ahead of Birkirkara but Miller anticipates a close duel.

“Birkirkara are one of the teams that are very difficult to beat,” he said. “It means that we have to play well against them. They have a couple of players missing... they have some problems to deal with but so do we, so it will be a 50-50 game. We will try to win the match. We have to be positive as we need the points to stay up there.”

Like his Birkirkara counterpart, Miller is beset by injuries to key players, especially in defence as Brazilian Diego Balbinot, Adrian Pulis, Ryan Camilleri and Jonathan Pearson are out of the equation.

On the positive side, Luis Edison ‘Tarabai’, the league’s top scorer with 15 goals, and fellow Brazilian striker Marcelo Dias return for Hibs after serving a one-match ban.

First round: Hibs vs Birkirkara 3-0.

Protest dismissed

In midweek, the MFA Protest Board rejected Birkirkara’s protest against the result of their first-round match against Tarxien.

Birkirkara argued that a technical error had occurred during the game as, in the lead-up to Tarxien’s third goal, there were two balls on the field of play.

The Stripes called on the MFA Protest Board to order a replay but their request was turned down.

Tarxien had won the game 3-2.

German striker Risser to make Floriana debut, Brazilian midfielder starts City trial

Mosta vs Balzan Youths (today at 6 p.m., Tedesco Stadium).

Mosta coach Stephen D’Amato is set to be without three players for this important clash with Balzan.

Sheldon Grech is ruled out by suspension while Luca Martinelli (ankle) and Gilbert Martin (hamstring) are sidelined with injury. Brazilian midfielder Arilson is no longer in Mosta’s plans.

Balzan coach Ivan Zammit has only one injury worry as defender Jonathan Francica is struggling with a knee problem.

First round: Balzan vs Mosta 1-1.

Ħamrun Spartans vs Tarxien Rainbows (today at 8.15 p.m., Tedesco Stadium).

Tarxien Rainbows will be without striker Daniel Mariano Bueno (knee) and defender Stefan Giglio (hamstring) for their delicate match against fellow strugglers Ħamrun.

Orosco Anonam (hamstring) and Adrian Carabott (ankle) are rated as doubtful. On a more positive note, coach Patrick Curmi is boosted by the return of Brazilian playmaker Caio Suguino while Ricardo Costa is also in line to make his comeback.

Ħamrun coach Jesmond Zammit must also cope without several important players as Massimo Grima, Lee James Agius and Gaetan Spiteri are suspended.

Goalkeeper Omar Borg (knee) and defenders Niki Gacesa (hamstring) and Steve Bonnici (knee) are rated as doubtful but, on the positive side, Kevin Sammut and Rupert Mangion are back in the fray after serving a one-match ban in the 4-0 upset to Valletta.

First round: Tarxien vs Ħamrun 1-1.

Sliema Wanderers vs Floriana (tomorrow at 2 p.m., National Stadium).

Floriana, buoyed by three wins on the trot, are expected to give a debut to German striker Wilko Risser. The 29-year-old Risser has been awarded a contract by the Greens after impressing coach Michael Woods during his trial.

Ivan Woods is set to return to the fold after missing the 1-0 win over Tarxien with an ankle problem but Chris Caruana is still sidelined with an ankle injury. Midfielder Joseph Borg returns from suspension.

Sliema are sure to be without defender Clifford Gatt Baldacchino and Beppe Muscat who have knee injuries.

Jean Pierre Mifsud Triganza, who has recovered well from a minor operation, and Rumen Galabov may be included in the squad. Danail Mitev, Steve Bezzina, Josef Mifsud and Cleaven Frendo are back from suspension.

First round result: Floriana vs Sliema 0-1.

Qormi vs Valletta (tomorrow at 4 p.m., National Stadium).

Qormi will be without Nigerian forward Abubakar Bello-Osagie for their clash with champions Valletta.

The Nigerian striker suffered a hamstring injury in the 2-0 defeat to Balzan. Striker Daniel Nwoke (hamstring) and Federico Mirarchi (knee) are doubtful while Roderick Sammut is suspended.

Brazilian forward William Barbosa is out for Valletta after receiving a one-match ban while striker Michael Mifsud, who missed the 4-0 win over Ħamrun, and Gilbert Agius are battling to shake off injuries.

Danyllo Goncalves, a Brazilian midfielder, was due to begin a trial with Valletta yesterday. Another Brazilian striker is expe-cted to join the Citizens for a trial next week.

First round: Valletta vs Qormi 3-1.

Mqabba vs Marsaxlokk (Sunday at 2 p.m., Hibs Stadium).

Argentine winger Emiliano Lattes has been released from Marsaxlokk by mutual agreement.

Lattes joins Obinna Obiefule in parting ways with Marsaxlokk who have also agreed to terminate the contracts of Florent Raimy and Carlos Campagnoli.

Marsaxlokk coach Anton Cremona is boosted by the return of defenders Clive Brincat and Sunday Eboh who missed the 2-0 defeat to Hibs through suspension.

The precarious situation of Marsaxlokk was discussed during an extraordinary general meeting on Wednesday. Renato Attard has been co-opted to the committee.

Mqabba have no injury problems as Pierre Grima has recovered from a foot injury.

First round: Marsaxlokk vs Mqabba 0-2.

Division One Fixtures

Today (Centenary Stadium 6 p.m. Naxxar Lions vs Birżebbuġa St Peters; 8 p.m. St George’s vs St Andrews.

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