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Montebello thriving in new role at Birkirkara

Luke Montebello (right) tries to go past Valletta duo Enmy Pena Beltre (right) and Ryan Fenech.

Luke Montebello has been one of the driving forces behind Birkirkara FC’s charge towards a place in European football this season.

The towering striker had struggled for first-team football with the Stripes at the start of the season but his determination and work ethic have gradually seen him not only win back a regular starting berth in the team but also become a key component for the club this season.

On Saturday, Montebello produced an impressive display in his side’s 2-2 draw against Sliema Wanderers where he not only pulled his team level with his tenth goal of the season but also set up Caio Prado for his team’s second goal.

In stoppage time, Montebello came agonisingly close of giving his team a crucial victory when after moving past two defenders he saw his drive hitting the bar.

“I am really happy with my form this season,” Montebello told the Times of Malta.

“I am coming from a long run of matches and when you play week in week out, it inevitably increases your self-confidence.

“This season, the coach has readjusted my position on the pitch and he is deploying me on the wing in a three-pronged attack. That role inevitably leaves me to go up and down the flank and help the team in defence too.

“But although I’m a striker, I’m still enjoying myself and feel really comfortable in this role. At the end of the day, what is important for me is that I do the job well and help the team attain positive results.”

Saturday’s 2-2 draw against Sliema Wanderers was a crucial result for Birkirkara’s aspirations to secure European football this season as it enabled the Stripes to preserve fourth place in the league, one ahead of the same Wanderers.

European race

Montebello said that although it was disappointing for Birkirkara not to beat Sliema Wanderers, which would have given them a commanding
four-point lead over their rivals, they are still pleased to have done enough to stay ahead of the Stripes in the race for Europe.

“It’s clear that our goal on Saturday was to win the match and open a four-point lead over Sliema Wanderers,” Montebello said.

“But at the end of the day, what was important for us was that we stayed ahead of them. There are still nine matches to go and we need to approach them one at a time. We know that we have a lot of quality in our squad and we are confident to reach our objective.

“It’s true that the coach has only 15 players in his squad but every member of our team are showing the right attitude and hopefully can perform at 100 per cent of their ability.”

Apart from his domestic challenges, Montebello is expected to feature heavily in Devis Mangia’s national team when next month they open their World Cup qualifiers against Russia and Slovakia.

“I am really looking forward to these challenges with the national team,” Montebello said.

“Obviously, the World Cup qualifying campaign will be a much tougher test for us than the UEFA Nations League but we are still looking forward to try and produce some strong performances.

“Since his arrival, Devis Mangia has shown a lot of faith in me.

“At the start of the season, when I was struggling for first-team football with Birkirkara he still fielded me in important matches and that gave me a lot of self-belief and hopefully I can repay him with more positive displays for the national team.”

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