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Ħamrun Spartans, Valletta renew rivalry in must-win match

The race for a top six berth in the BOV Premier League enters a decisive phase this weekend with the start of the second round that will define which teams will make it to the Championship Pool and battle for the Premier League title and European places.

No doubt, the plum fixture this weekend is the clash between old time rivals Valletta and Ħamrun Spartans who will be desperate for points to not only keep up the pressure on runaway leaders Hibernians but also strengthen their place among the top six sides in the division.

At present, Valletta are in second place on 20 points, five adrift of leaders Hibernians, and two ahead of fourth-placed Ħamrun Spartans who are desperate to put themselves back in contention to defend the title crown they won last season.

Both teams come into the match on the back of two successive victories and will hope to keep up the momentum in such a crucial phase of the championship.

Valletta head into the match against their neighbouring rivals with a psychological edge after they beat the Malta champions on the opening day of the season when they came from behind to secure a 2-1 win.

Midfielder Triston Caruana said that since that opening-day victory the Citizens have come a long way and said that they are desperate to reconfirm their strong form of late with another important win against the Spartans.

“To be honest, we had a good start of the season with wins over Ħamrun Spartans and Balzan despite all the changes the club went through in the close season both on and off the pitch,” Caruana said.

“Although our performances were not as good as we wanted we still kept fighting and gradually we started to show our best football. When the coach decided to switch from 4-3-3 to a 3-5-2 formation, we started to play much better as our forwards started to make the difference and we managed to go on a run of results that lifted us to second place.

“But there are still a lot of challenges ahead of us, starting with the match against a Ħamrun team who too have improved a lot in recent weeks and will have the incentive that with a win they would leapfrog us in the standings.

“However, we are ready for this challenge as we are determined to get all the three points that would enable to distance ourselves from them and keep the pressure on Hibs.”

Valletta will be without a key player for this match as Croatian midfielder Ivan Curjuric is out with a one-match ban.

Ħamrun, on the other hand, will welcome back from suspension Serbian defender Darko Gojkovic, as they look to grab their first win against one of the top teams in the division this season.

“It’s no secret that in the position that we are in we have little margin for error,” Stefan Sultana, the Spartans assistant coach, said.

“At the moment, we are not focused on the league title but the goal is to continue to climb places in the standings. A win against Valletta would see us move ahead of them in the standings and that is what we are focused on.

“The battle for the top six places is very harsh at the moment. If you exclude Hibernians, who are five points clear at the top, all the other five teams are all ambushed in just a few points so nobody affords to drop points.

“It’s true that we lost the majority of the direct encounters this season, but if one has to be honest we were very unlucky in most of them and hopefully we can change that as from this weekend.

“The team is showing encouraging signs of improvement but it’s up to us to show that we have what it takes to challenge the top teams in the division.

First round result: Valletta vs Ħamrun Spartans 2-1. 

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