Holders Balzan will be looking to put their erratic league form to one side as they open their FA Trophy defence with a tricky tie against fellow top-flight rivals Mosta on Wednesday at the Hibs Stadium (kick-off: 6pm).
After the FA Trophy was scrapped last season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a lot things have changed at Balzan FC since that historic triumph in May 2019 when they beat newly-crowned champions Valletta in a thrilling final that was decided after a penalty shoot-out.
This season, the Reds, under the charge of Mark Miller, have struggled for form and find themselves in the lower part of the standings, facing the prospect of a relegation dog-fight to preserve their top-flight status.
The FA Trophy may not be at the top of Balzan’s agenda but coach Miller believes that winning tomorrow’s match will not only push Balzan to the next round but more importantly provide a much-needed psychological lift ahead of crucial league fixtures.
“Looking at how our season has panned out so far, our main objective is surely to preserve our top flight status,” Miller told The Times of Malta.
“But that does not mean that we are not giving importance to the FA Trophy. I am looking forward to this match against Mosta and we will take the field with a positive frame of mind and determined to get the win.
“It’s not my style to field a weak team and prepare for a cup tie with the wrong attitude. The FA Trophy is a major competition and we would love to far.
“Added to that, a strong performance and a win against Mosta could be a game-changer for us as it will no doubt infuse much-needed self-belief in my players ahead of a very delicate run of fixtures in the coming weeks which will define our season.
“No doubt, we have the quality to compete against any team but we need to show that on a more consistent level.”
Miller is sweating on the fitness of a number of key players but is hopeful of having Serbian winger Uros Ljubomirac back in the frame after missing the 1-1 draw against Lija Athletic.
If Balzan are struggling for form this season, Mosta, too, had little to smile about in recent weeks as four successive defeats have significantly jolted their hopes of qualification to European football next season.
Mario Muscat, Mosta FC’s technical director, admitted that the team’s run of results are a cause of concern but said that the team is focused on tomorrow’s match against Balzan to try and reverse the trend.
“Our priority at the moment is to try and end this poor run of late and go on a run of positive results,” Muscat said.
“At the moment, results are not coming our way even though the players’ performances have been quite satisfactory. The FA Trophy is a different animal than the league championship where you have to perform during those 90 minutes and hopefully we can revert our recent trend with a win over Balzan.
“All teams in the Premier League have gone through difficult patches throughout the season, and at the moment, it’s our turn. Added to that, we have to contend with a long list of injured players but whoever came in have done quite well, even though their displays were not rewarded with positive results.
“Our focus has to be that to play to our strengths and if we do that I’m confident that we can reach the next round.”
Muscat is expected to be boosted by the return of defender Tyrone Farrugia, midfielder Gianluca Sciberras and striker Bojan Kaljevic, who missed the 2-1 defeat to Gżira United.
Birkirkara vs Lija Ath. 20.30
Qormi vs Tarxien R. 14.00
St Andrews vs Sliema W. 18.00
Floriana vs Sta Lucia 14.00
Balzan vs Mosta 18.00
Valletta vs Gudja 14.00
Hibernians vs Żejtun 18.00
Sannat L. vs Ħamrun S. 15.00
Birżebbuġa SP vs Xagħra 15.00
Żebbuġ vs Marsa 14.00
Naxxar vs Swieqi 18.00
Gżira Utd vs Mqabba 20.30