Watch: It’s time to step up, Doncic tells Valletta players

Video: Mark Zammit Cordina

Danilo Doncic has warned his Valletta players that they must raise the bar if they are to stay in the hunt for this season’s BOV Premier League title and said that nothing less than a win will do against Hibernians tomorrow (kick-off: 4pm).  

Earlier this week, Valletta saw their title chances handed a major boost when leaders Balzan dropped two precious points against Gżira United that enabled the Citizens to move just one point behind.

Still, Doncic believes that Balzan are still in control in this season’s title race and said that Valletta must win their remaining five matches to remain in the hunt.

“This is a very important match for both teams,” Doncic told a news conference yesterday.

“For us this is a match that we cannot afford to drop any points if we are to keep the pressure on Balzan. On the other hand, Hibernians are still fighting for a place in Europe and will not make it easy for us.

“It’s no secret that in the last few weeks we struggled to score goals in big matches but things surely have to change. There are only five matches to go and if we really want to win the title we need to raise the level of our game.

“The team is in good form and the players are working hard in training but that is not enough if we don’t step up our performances.”

Doncic admitted that the departure of coach Mark Miller and the appointment of Mario Muscat as interim coach will have provided added motivation for the Paolites and has warned his players to expect a fierce backlash tomorrow.

“When a new coach comes in, it’s natural that the players will be motivated even more to do better,” the Serbian coach said.

“Mario Muscat has been a key figure in the Hibernians fold for many years and surely he is more than capable of injecting fresh impetus to his team.

“But my players have enough experience to handle such situations and our goal is very clear… take all three points to remain firmly in the race for this season’s title.”

On his part, Muscat admitted that the build-up to the match was not easy following the departure of coach Mark Miller and his assistant Josef Mansueto but he was confident that his players have enough experience to handle the situation.

“The past three or four days were not easy for us following the departure of Mark Miller and Josef Mansueto,” Muscat said.

“I am grateful to both Mark and Josef for all they have done to the club in the past two years and my aim is to finish what they have started by leading the club to our pre-set goal of qualifying for European football.

“My first match in charge couldn’t be tougher as we’re facing Valletta who are one of the leading contenders for the title. But I have a lot of belief in the squad we have and I’m sure that the players will rise to the occasion and get a positive result.”

Asked whether he is planning to make some changes to his team’s set-up for Sunday’s match, Muscat said: “I don’t think that we need to make a lot of changes because as a whole the set-up Mark and Josef have built this season was very good.

“In the last three days I have discussed my views with my assistants Neil Zarb Cousin and Eric Lia and we might make some minor changes.

“We feel that we are more than capable of putting up a strong performance and take all three points.”

First round result: Hibs vs Valletta 0-0.

Hibs striker Jurgen Degabriele (left) charges past Santiago Malano, of Valletta.Hibs striker Jurgen Degabriele (left) charges past Santiago Malano, of Valletta.

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