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Brown and Wasiu leave, Jeffers in doubt

Sunday Wasiu (centre) and Aaron Brown (right) have been released by Floriana.

Sunday Wasiu (centre) and Aaron Brown (right) have been released by Floriana.

These are tough times for Hibs and Floriana.

Billed as potential title candidates at the start of the season, the Paolites have slipped down the standings after collecting only one point from their last four matches.

Floriana’s predicament is worse than that of their imminent opponents as they are languishing in the bottom part of the table with nine points from nine games.

Both teams go into their direct clash this afternoon knowing that another defeat would not only jeopardise their position in the table, it would also crank up the pressure on the players as the end of the first round edges closer.

Surely, Hibs and Floriana will be bidding to arrest their slump today but, by the look of it, the Greens are facing another herculean task after going through another upheaval this week.

Coach Stephen Azzopardi was brought in to steady Floriana’s ship but he clearly has a big job on his hands if he’s to stamp his mark on the team.

Floriana’s early-season struggles have not prevented Azzopardi taking some hard decisions.

He has a depleted squad today after the club terminated the contracts of English defender Aaron Brown and striker Sunday Wasiu.

Furthermore, Francis Jeffers, Floriana’s marquee signing before the derby against Valletta, is unlikely to stay.

To compound matters for Floriana, Owen Bugeja is still unavailable while winger Trevor Cilia is out after injuring his medial collateral ligament.

Jermain Brincat, a fringe player at Floriana this season, has been provisionally suspended by the Malta FA over allegations of match-rigging. Although the ban comes into force on Tuesday, Brincat is unlikely to be considered for selection today.

Azzopardi is not pressing the panic button yet.

“As everyone knows, there were many problems at Floriana at the start of the season because of the club’s financial situation,” he said.

“The new owners then came in to try and solve these difficulties but another problem arose following the departure of the coach.

“I’ve only been in this job for 14 days and we’ve all been working to turn the wheel. In fact, we’ve already taken some decisions in line with our vision of how we intend to take this club forward.”

This week, Alan Keeling, who has a UEFA A licence and is a coaching educator in the UK, has been appointed assistant coach of Floriana, replacing Alan Lewer.

In Saturday’s clash with Tarxien, Floriana were the better team in the first half but suffered a collective decline in the second.

“The team’s physical condition is not 100 per cent at the moment,” Azzopardi said.

“It’s one of the reasons why teams are putting us under pressure in the second half. It’s not an easy situation but we’ll try to pick a few points before the transfer window reopens in January.”

Meanwhile, Hibs will be looking to bounce back from their 1-0 reverse against Birkirkara.

Coach Michael Woods is expected to restore Adrian Pulis and Zoran Levnaic to the starting team as the duo are available after serving a one-match suspension.

The other matches

Rabat vs Tarxien (today at 14.00, Tedesco Stadium).

Rabat gained an unexpected confidence boost last Friday after holding leaders Valletta to a 1-1 draw. The same goes for Tarxien who maintained their positive run with their come-from-behind 3-2 win over Floriana.

Silvio Vella, the Rabat coach, is concerned about the fitness of Nerijus Astrauskas who is struggling with an ankle injury.

Striker Adam Smeir and Chris Schembri are sidelined with injuries while Patrick Borg is unwell.

Tarxien are buoyed by the return from suspension of four players, namely Daniel Mariano Bueno, Andrezinho, Justin Grioli and Manuel Caruana.

The Rainbows will not be at full strength though as Brazilian defender Evaldo is suspended and Carlo Mamo and Ryan Sammut are injured.

Sliema vs Ħamrun (tomorrow at 14.00, Tedesco Stadium).

The morale of these two teams is high after both were on the winning side in their last outings. Sliema beat Melita 4-0 while Ħamrun extended their unbeaten run to four games after a 1-0 victory over Qormi.

Sliema veteran Ivan Woods is doubtful with a thigh injury. Defender Stefano Bianciardi picked up a thigh injury in last week’s match and he’s almost certain to miss this match.

Italian midfielder Paltemio Barbetti must serve a one-match ban,

Young midfielder Daniel Zerafa is facing a fitness race but, on the plus side, Spartans coach Stefan Sultana can rely on the experienced Massimo Grima who returns from suspension.

Birkirkara vs Qormi (tomorrow at 16.15, Tedesco Stadium).

Twelve points separate second-placed Birkirkara and Qormi but the Stripes will not take anything for granted after going down to a shock 3-1 defeat to Ħamrun the last time they played at the Tedesco Stadium.

Birkirkara must make two changes from the team that started last weekend’s victory over Hibs as Zach Muscat is suspended and Shola Shodiya Haruna is out with a groin injury. Brazilian striker Joselito is recovering from an ankle operation.

Midfielder Paul Fenech is available after seeing out his one-match ban.

Qormi have only gained one point from their last five outings. The Yellow-Blacks suffered another setback in midweek with the news that on-loan striker Gaetan Spiteri has been temporarily suspended by the Malta FA over match-fixing allegations.

Otherwise, coach Jesmond Zerafa, who is still searching for his first win since rejoining Qormi last month, has a full squad at his disposal.

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