The race for a top-four berth in this season’s Premier League faces a significant chapter this weekend when Birkirkara take on Sliema Wanderers at the National Stadium this afternoon (kick-off: 2pm).
This week, the Stripes leapfrogged the Wanderers into fourth place after a hard-fought 2-0 win over Valletta that pushed them one point clear of today’s opponents and although there are still ten matches still to be played, the winner this afternoon’s match will surely strike a psychological blow in this year’s quest for a top four placing.
Although finishing fourth in the BOV Premier League does not guarantee an automatic berth in next summer’s Europa League qualifier, however, should the FA Trophy be won by a team who placed in the top three placings in the league would automatically promote the fourth placed side to European football.
Birkirkara come into this match on the back of a very hectic week which saw lose to Premier League leaders Ħamrun Spartans last weekend before producing the right reaction by defeating Valletta in midweek.
Andre Paus, the Birkirkara coach, has made no secret of the importance of the clash against Sliema Wanderers. He is urging his players to focus on their game and make sure they are ready to deliver their best possible performance to ensure they return home with three important points.
“This is another six-pointer for us,” the Dutchman told The Times of Malta.
“It’s clear that we are facing another good team in the form of Sliema Wanderers who are battling with us for a top placing that would yield a place in European football.
“However, my message to my players is always to try and not think too much on our opponents. It’s important that we always look at ourselves and make sure that we play at our best. If we do that then I have no doubt that we can beat anyone in the championship.
“At the end of the day, our destiny is always in our hands and whether we reach our objectives or not depends exclusively on ourselves.
“This will be the third match we are playing this week, and again against a very strong team. But I feel the players have managed to recover well and hopefully we will take the field with the right attitude, as that is crucial to get all three points.”
On the other hand, Sliema Wanderers are coming from a rough patch of form which has seen them surprisingly knocked out of the FA Trophy to Challenge League strugglers St Andrews before being held to a 1-1 draw by Gudja United in their last outing.
“This is a very important match for our ambitions of securing a top four placing this season,” Sliema Wanderers assistant coach Noel Turner said.
“We are facing an opponent who is sharing our ambitions and it will surely be important to win the match. However, given the number of matches remaining, consistency is the name of the game and hopefully we can go on a run results starting from the match against Birkirkara.
“Since the start of the season until today, the players have been really great in training and during matches and have always approached each match with the right attitude, irrespective of all problems surrounding us.
“There is great desire from the players to finish off what we started. Our objective at the start of the season has been that to take Sliema Wanderers back to European football and that has not changed.
“Our major weapon has been the unity that exists between the players and I have no doubt that this group of players will continue to fight to achieve the club’s objectives till the end.”
First round result: Sliema Wanderers vs Birkirkara 2-1.