This season’s title race could be set for a pivotal weekend when leaders Ħamrun Spartans take on nearest rivals Hibernians at the National Stadium this afternoon (kick-off: 2pm).
With just two points separating the two title rivals, today’s match could have a huge bearing on where this year’s title race as a win for the Spartans could see them take a commanding five-point lead while victory for the Paolites would enable them to jump to the top of the Premier League standings with only seven matches remaining.
Few can argue that this afternoon’s fixture brings against each other the two most consistent sides in the Premier League this season with the Reds sitting at the top of the standings for almost the whole campaign with the Paolites never too far behind them.
Hibernians captain Andre Agius agreed that although nothing will be decided after this weekend’s fixture, the weight this match has on the title race could be decisive.
“This clash is not decisive in this year’s championship battle but it could have a huge bearing, no doubt,” the Malta defender told the Times of Malta.
“If Ħamrun win the match, they will open a commanding five-point lead and surely will put them in a strong position to win the title as they will have a good buffer and a bigger margin of error to administer from now till the end of the season.
“On the other hand a win for us or a draw will keep things tight so everything will still be open. But whatever happens, we will keep fighting as there are still a few matches still to be played and everything can happen.
“However, our goal is to go out and win the match and go top of the league which would be very important at this stage.”
Today’s match brings against each other Ħamrun Spartans, who boast the best attack in the championship with 55 goals, against a Hibernians team who conceded the least number of goals so far, 19.
Asked what he thinks will be the decisive factor that will decide the match, Agius said that the team who is capable of keeping control of his nerve better and manages to play more freely is the more likely to come out on top.
“Personally, I think that psychology could play a key role in this match,” Agius said.
“For me, the team that takes the pitch with the right mindset and manages to be more calm on the pitch will be the one that expresses the better football and will probably be favourite to win the match.
“So it’s important that we manage to keep good control of our nerves to ensure we can play at our best.”
Ħamrun Spartans head into this top-of-the-table clash in fine fettle following last week’s impressive 2-1 win over Gżira United.
Midfielder Matthew Guillaumier said that the win over Gżira United was very important for them as they managed to distance themselves from a very dangerous side but said that all their focus now was on their match against Hibernians which he believes is very important in their quest of winning the title.
“This is a very important match against our main challengers for the league title so we’re really looking forward to it,” Guillaumier said.
“There are another three points at stake like any other game but obviously winning this match would be a huge shot in the arm for our aspirations of lifting the league trophy.
“The atmosphere in the group is very good particularly after our win over Gżira United which has all but cut them out of this year’s title race. It’s important that we show the same rhythm and intensity we showed against Gżira so we can get the right result.”
Guillaumier said that Hibernians’ transfer business in January, with the arrival of Tiago Fonseca, Raphael, Gilmar and Imanol Iriberri, was a clear indication that they were determined to bolster their challenge for the title.
“Hibernians have strengthened their ranks significantly in January,” the former Birkirkara midfielder said.
“Normally, they don’t do so much business in the January transfer window but this year they look determined to strengthen their team to challenge for the title. They have brought some quality players like Raphael, Gilmar and Tiago Fonseca and we need to be ready for them.
“But personally I think that single players don’t make a team. We will get ready for them and analyse their strength and weaknesses and try and make the most of them.
“Our trump card this year has been our team spirit as everyone is fighting for each other and hopefully that will serves us well in such an important match.”
First round result: Ħamrun Spartans vs Hibernians 2-2.