Stripes retain title as they set sights on double
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Stripes retain title as they set sights on double

Alishia Sultana (left) of Birkirara attempts to move past Hibernians’ Jessica Lee Dimech. Photo: Mark Zammit Cordina

Alishia Sultana (left) of Birkirara attempts to move past Hibernians’ Jessica Lee Dimech. Photo: Mark Zammit Cordina

Birkirkara picked up the point needed to retain the women’s league title following a 2-2 draw against Hibernians at the Centenary Stadium, last Tuesday.

For the Stripes this was their third successive league title, a feat they achieved for the first time in their club history, and also their eighth crown overall.

Having defeated their rivals Hibernians in their previous three league appointments – 2-0, 1-0, 6-0 – it felt that Birkirkara had enough offensive prowess to seal their title success with a fourth straight win over their rivals.

However, the Paolites, whose sloppy campaign has seen them slump 18 points behind the Stripes, were determined to halt their opponents’ party.

In fact, goals from midfielders Shona Zammit and Dorianne Theuma had cancelled out a two-goal deficit after Alishia Sultana and Stephania Farrugia had put Birkirkara ahead after 13 minutes.

But it was not enough for them as the Stripes were relieved to hold on to their point and celebrate their third straight success.

With one game left, Birkirkara hold a four-point lead over second-place Mġarr United, against whom they will wrap up their league commitments before setting their sights on the domestic cup.

Prior to the start of the league, Birkirkara’s domestic domination felt hanging by a thread when Hibernians had secured a 3-0 win over the Stripes in the Super Cup to claim the first silverware of the season.

However, Birkirkara immediately made amendments for that defeat, starting their season trek with 11 straight wins before being held by Mġarr in a goalless stalemate.

Led by Melania Bajada, the Stripes have a perfect blend of youth and experienced players in their squad which led the team to win 16 of their 19 league games with an aggregate score of 77-5.

One of the mainstays at the club is goalkeeper Janice Xuereb, who forms part of a defensive line that conceded just five goals in 19 games so far.

Speaking to the Times of Malta, Xuereb feels that the team remained competitive especially after the arrival of some important players into the side.

“The new signings found no difficulty in integrating to our squad and that helped us to maintain our competitive edge,” Xuereb said.

“The youth players that joined us this season or came up through the academy have given us a huge helping hand. They are tactically very disciplined and understand the game. Most of all they are also mature and those criteria are important in a big club like ours.”

Bajada, who hails from Gozo and has now won her second straight title as a Birkirkara coach, is already looking forward to the challenge in the domestic Knock-Out competition.

Birkirkara will face Kirkop United, the other team from Section A in the league.

“We won the double in the past couple of seasons, therefore our aim is to retain our status as top dogs in this competition as well after winning the title, which would be a reward for the hard work that this team has put throughout the season,” Bajada said.

Mġarr threat

Despite retaining top status, Birkirkara are wary of a future threat from their closest rivals Mġarr, with Hibernians always expected to be on the forefront as well given their domestic success in recent years.

“It was a tough season for us, because despite winning the championship Mġarr gave us a really hard time,” Xuereb explained.

“In fact, we drew twice against them and if it not had been for them losing some points on the road, the title race could have gone to the wire.

“At the end, I still feel that we are the best team in the league but it is also thanks to Mġarr’s challenge that we remained competitive as well, besides the new players that joined and who gave us a massive boost.”

Mġarr were the revelation of the season, collecting 47 points so far and losing just once against Birkirkara which make for another intriguing challenge next season.

In the meantime, both the Stripes and Mġarr can face each other in the cup final should they eliminate Kirkop and Hibs respectively.

The semi-finals are scheduled for May 7 and May 8, with the final set to be played on May 14.

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