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Leaders Ħamrun Spartans, Gżira United face off as COVID-19 continues to bite

Ħamrun Spartans striker Franklin Sasere (top) heads the ball towards goal against Balzan. Photo: Mark Zammit Cordina

The 2020-21 Premier League resumes as from Friday evening despite all the challenges being generated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

In fact, this weekend’s programme was expected to consist of seven matches after the game between Sirens and Lija Athletic had already been postponed as the St Paul’s Bay side is serving a mandatory quarantine.

However, it was announced on Thursday that COVID-19 had struck again as five players from Birkirkara FC tested positive for the virus and the whole first-team squad was put into quarantine. That meant that their highly-awaited clash against Floriana, scheduled for Saturday, was postponed.

Another COVID-19 positive test came to light yesterday was at Gżira United with one player put in self-isolation but so far it looks unlikely that it will have any effect on their plum fixture this weekend against Ħamrun Spartans at the Hibs Stadium on Saturday.

The Maroons and the Spartans have been among the protagonists of this first part of this year’s championship with both teams currently sharing top spot on 13 points alongside two other sides, Sliema Wanderers and Hibernians.

Having four teams at the top of the standings is a clear sign of the unprecedented balance that exists in the Maltese top-flight this season and both Gżira United and Ħamrun Spartans have an excellent opportunity to send a statement of their ambitions with victory tomorrow.

Gżira United head into the match in a better form than the Spartans as four wins in a row has seen Darren Abdilla’s men put firmly behind them a tricky start to the season and go top of the standings.

Steve Borg, the Gżira United captain, told The Times of Malta, that it was normal for his team to take some time before clicking into gear but said the team was starting to function at full flow and are determined to maintain their winning run against the Spartans.

“It was only natural for us to struggle a bit at the start given that we are practically a new team,” the Malta defender said.

“Added to that our pre-season preparations was severely hampered by having several friendly matches being called off due to the COVID-19 pandemic leaving us short of the usual match sharpness that one finds himself at the start of the season.

“But it looks like now we have gone into our stride and we are looking forward to our clash against Ħamrun Spartans.

“We are expecting a very tough match as Ħamrun made a lot of investment in the summer and have significantly bolstered their team.

“Unfortunately, we are going to be without a number of players due to injury or suspension so for sure we are going to miss them. But I’m confident that we still have the strength-in-depth to get the win that we are looking for.”

Abdilla, the Gżira United coach, is sure to be without defender Zack Scerri, midfielder Clyde Borg and forward Martin Davis who are out injured while midfielder Jackson Mendoza and Omar Elouni must serve a three-match ban.

Ħamrun, on their part, are expected to welcome back in the fray Serbian defender Darko Gojkovic who missed the last two matches through injury and suspension.

The Reds will be determined to get back to winning ways after they suffered their first defeat of the season to Birkirkara before they were held to a 2-2 draw by Balzan.

Matthew Guillaumier, the Spartans midfielder, said that he is expecting another difficult test against a team who he believes will be among the leading challengers for the league title this season.

“It’s another acid test for us against a Gżira team who are full of quality players,” the former Birkirkara midfielder said.

“The last two matches were a bit disappointing for us as we didn’t perform to our ability and we need to finally turn the corner with a win on Sunday.

“Against Birkirkara the team didn’t show the necessary grit and determination to win matches while we also failed to play constructive football with the result that we struggled to create chances.

“On the other hand, in the match against Balzan we were aggressive, but failed to dictate proceedings with the result that we ended up chasing possession for long stretches of the match.

“Still we had enough

chances to kill off our opponents but failed to put the ball into the net and ended up punished when we conceded a late equaliser from a penalty that never was.

“I hope that we can step our game against Gżira as we need to be at our best if we are to get the three points and keep our high placing in the standings.”

PROGRAMME

PLAYING TODAY

CENTENARY STADIUM

Mosta vs Sta Lucia       17.00

Żejtun C. vs Hibernians             21.15

TOMORROW

CENTENARY STADIUM

Tarxien R. vs Gudja Utd             14.00

HIBS STADIUM

Floriana vs Birkirkara  pp

Ħamrun S. vs Gżira Utd             18.15

SUNDAY

CENTENARY STADIUM

Sliema W. vs Balzan    14.00

Valletta vs Senglea A. 18.15

Standings provided by SofaScore LiveScore

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