Gudja United coach Jesmond Zammit has hailed the character shown by his players in their stunning come-from-behind win over Valletta that reignited the Southerners’ hopes of retaining their top-flight status.
While the buildup for Match-Day 23 was dominated by the top-of-the-table clash between leaders Ħamrun Spartans and nearest rivals Hibernians, in
reality the real fireworks last weekend happened at the lower end of the standings where the battle for survival seems to be entering a decisive stage.
While the relegation of bottom side Senglea Athletic was mathematically sealed after a heavy 5-1 defeat to Mosta, the battle to avoid the other three spots is set to intensify particularly after Lija Athletic stunned Sta Lucia, while Żejtun Corinthians and Balzan picked up a useful point.
However, it was Gudja United who achieved the biggest result of the weekend as the southerners came from behind to stun Valletta 4-2 at the Hibernians Stadium to move three points clear of the relegation zone.
Sunday’s win at Corradino comes as a huge relief for coach Zammit and his players who came into the match on the back of four successive defeats to saw the team slip into the relegation zone.
“This was a crucial victory for us,” Zammit told The Times of Malta.
“After our defeat to Tarxien Rainbows last week, things were getting tough for us. We were desperate for the three points particularly after Lija’s win over Sta Lucia and Żejtun Corinthians’ draw against Sirens.
“But credit to boys as they gave their hearts out. To be honest, in the last four matches, our performances were good but we were struggling to score goals. Today everything clicked.”
Zammit admitted that the last few weeks were very difficult for his squad, particularly after 11 members of the first team had tested positive for COVID-19, which forced the squad to go into mandatory quarantine with the result that on their return, they faced a congested schedule.
“Having 11 players with COVID-19 was a huge setback for us as apart from the fact that those affected struggled to get back in their best shape, we found ourselves with a very hectic fixtures’ list,” the former Xewkija Tigers coach said.
“In the last four weeks, we had to play no less than nine matches with the result that we had very little time to work on the training field but more of a concern we lost several players to injury.
“Fortunately, for the match against Valletta we had some key players back and that showed in our performance as we looked sharper upfront and took the chances that come our way.
“The only blemish this time was that we conceded two very soft goals which could have easily been avoided and hopefully we can work on that.”
Things don’t get any easier for Gudja as on Saturday, they are scheduled to face the in-form Birkirkara and Zammit said that his team must approach the last seven matches as if it was a final as with up to six teams fighting for survival every point gained will be decisive.
“The fight against relegation is getting tougher and tougher with up to eight teams still trying to avoid the other three relegation berths and the play-out spot,” Zammit said.
“We have seven matches to play and every match is going to be crucial for our hopes of salvation. It’s important that we approach every match as if it was a final and try and pick up points on a consistent level or else we can find ourselves in trouble.”