Hibernians’ top status in the BOV Premier League will be put under severe test tomorrow when they take on a rejuvenated Valletta FC at the Tony Bezzina Stadium (kick-off: 5pm).
The Paolites have enjoyed a strong start to the 2021-22 season and are currently one of only two teams who are still unbeaten after the opening six matches and are enjoying a two-point gap from nearest rivals Birkirkara.
Last week, the Paolites broke little sweat to see off Sliema
Wanderers but coach Stefano Sanderra has refused to get carried away and wants his players to use the match against Valletta as the picture opportunity to confirm the progress the team made in the last few weeks.
“Matches against Valletta FC are always very difficult,” Sanderra told the Times of Malta.
“We are facing a team that in its last outing, has rediscovered their best form and therefore we need to approach the match with the right level of concentration.
“Valletta have some excellent players in their squad and are capable of creating problems for us in all areas of the pitch so we need to be ready.
Sanderra said that he is very happy with the progress shown by his team since the start of the season but admitted that Hibernians are far from being a
finished article and said that more work needs to be done before the team can reach the level of performance he wants from his players.
“I am very happy with my team at the moment, particularly with the progress we have shown since the start of the season,” the Italian coach said.
“However, I still feel there is ample space of improvement and we are working hard to try and help the team to reach the highest level of performance.
“I believe that from a physical, mental and character point of view we still have a lot to improve and that is why we need to be more humble and continue to work hard on the training pitch.”
The Italian coach will be without defender Ferdinando Apap who must serve a one-match ban while Albanian forward Erjon Beu is still sidelined by injury.
Valletta, on the other hand, have had a turbulent start to the season as after winning their opening two matches against Ħamrun Spartans and Balzan, they slumped to three successive defeats.
Last weekend, they managed to turn the tide when they beat Sirens 3-1 and are now hoping to carry the positive momentum against the Paolites.
“I was pleased with the response of the players against Sirens,” Valletta coach Jose Cardoso Mendes said.
“Against Sirens we have recovered some players and I was forced to make some tweaks in our formation due to a number of players unavailable but the team still worked very well and although it was far from a perfect performance we still did well to get all points.
“Now we have another big test against Hibernians and it’s the perfect chance for us to show the quality and value of our team. Hibernians are enjoying a very impressive campaign so far and we need to work harder and fight more on the pitch to get the result we want.”
Toze, as the Valletta coach is affectionately known, has hailed the impact of Bosnian striker Harris Dilaver who has given the team another dimension.
“The arrival of Dilaver was very important for us as his inclusion has enabled Mario Fontanella to switch to his more natural role as second striker and he clearly thrived in this role against Sirens,” Toze said.
“I only have words of praise for Mario as since I came here he has been a great professional who has sacrificed himself for the team and played as a central striker for several matches.
“The arrival of Dilaver is very important for him and the two forwards have set up a very impressive partnership which I am sure will continue to improve in the coming weeks.”