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Ħamrun Spartans, Birkirkara face off in must-win match

Balzan take on Sliema Wanderers at Corradino

The BOV Premier League continues this evening with two matches that can have a huge bearing on both sides of the standings as champions Ħamrun Spartans take on Birkirkara at the National Stadium while Balzan face bottom-placed Sliema Wanderers at the Tony Bezzina Stadium, with kick-off time set at 7pm.

The clash between Ħamrun Spartans and Birkirkara is likely to attract more interest given that it brings against each other two teams who are desperate for the three points to cut the gap over runaway leaders Hibernians.

At present, Ħamrun Spartans are in third place, eight points adrift of the Paolites, while Birkirkara are a further point back.

The two teams head into the match on the back of disappointing outings last weekend which saw Ħamrun Spartans only manage a 2-2 draw against Balzan while Birkirkara slumped to a 1-0 defeat to Floriana.

Ħamrun Spartans will be desperate to get one over the Stripes this season after, in the corresponding first-round fixture, it was Birkirkara who came out on top 2-1.

The Reds have no margin of error against Birkirkara and no doubt coach Mark Buttigieg will be hopeful his players will cut out the defensive errors that cost them dearly against Balzan last Saturday.

“Our possession play against Balzan was very good but we committed some defensive errors for which we were made to pay dearly,” Buttigieg told reporters at the end of the match.

“From then on, it was always an uphill battle for us, particularly after Steve Borg’s red card, but the players showed great heart and we managed to at least rescue a point.”

The Ħamrun Spartans coach is sure to be without Steve Borg, who yesterday was handed a two-match ban by the Malta FA Disciplinary Commissioner following his red card on his debut.

Birkirkara, on the other hand, are expected to have new signing, goalkeeper Julani Archibald, in their squad after the St Kitts and Nevis international goalkeeper agreed to join the Stripes on loan for the rest of the season from Santa Lucia.

The Stripes left the National Stadium on Sunday fuming with some controversial decisions taken by the match officials during the 1-0 defeat against Floriana.

Andrei Ciolacu’s winner for Floriana left the Stripes clan speechless after the referee failed to sanction a foul suffered by Birkirkara forward Luke Montebello in the build-up while the Stripes also had a legitimate claim of a penalty waved away by the match officials.

Coach Andre Paus will be demanding his players to convert last Sunday’s frustrations into positive energy as Birkirkara know that a win over Ħamrun Spartans would push them up to third, six points adrift of leaders Hibernians with half the campaign still to be played.

In the other clash this evening, Balzan and Sliema Wanderers need to pick up maximum spoils for contrasting reasons.

Balzan are keen to get back to winning ways after they squandered back-to-back 2-0 leads in their last two outings against both Birkirkara (2-3) and Ħamrun Spartans (2-2).

Coach Paul Zammit has had a very positive impact since he replaced Mark Miller at the helm of Balzan but the team seems to have struggled with their physical condition since the championship restart following a bout of COVID-19 cases at the club.

The match against the struggling Sliema Wanderers represents a perfect opportunity for Balzan to boost their hopes of securing a place in the Championship Pool this season as a win today would see them move in fourth place on 23 points.

Zammit will be hoping that his attacking trio of Bojan Kaljevic, Uros Ljubomirac and Aleksa Andreijic will again make the difference with their speed and powerful finishing.

On their part, Sliema Wanderers will be aware that they need to start picking up points quickly if they are to keep alive their fading hopes of retaining their Premier League status.

The Blues are currently bottom of the standings with only four points to share as the club’s acquisitions during the January transfer window have yet to leave their mark on the club.

Coach Andrea Pisanu has a huge selection headache for today’s match. Goalkeeper David Cassar picked up a back injury in the 1-0 defeat to Gudja United while his replacement Timothy Aquilina will sit out of today’s match after picking up a one-match ban.

The Wanderers will also have to do without Italian defender Raffael Schiavi who is also suspended.

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