Floriana’s credentials of mounting a serious title challenge this season will undergo another severe test on Sunday when they take on champions Ħamrun Spartans at the National Stadium (kick-off: 2pm).
The Greens are without doubt the real revelation of the 2021-22 season as Gianluca Atzori’s young troops have been punching above their weight this term.
Wins over Valletta and Birkirkara have catapulted them to second place in the standings, just five points adrift of long-time leaders Hibernians.
Floriana may not boast of star performers in their team but their collective strength is certainly making a huge difference as was witnessed last Sunday when the Greens put on a battling display to edge Birkirkara 1-0.
Coach Atzori said that he is delighted with the effort of his players this season but is aware of the difficult task awaiting his team against Ħamrun Spartans.
“There is no doubt that this is a very good moment for us at the moment,” said Atzori.
“The team is in rich vein of form as evidenced by our four wins in a row and I am proud of the work being put in by my players. But we are also aware that on Sunday we are up against the best team in Malta.
“If you compare each of their player with ours you have to admit that they have great qualities but that doesn’t mean that we will not give everything we have to get a result.
“In the corresponding first-round fixture we gave them a good run for their money and we plan to do the same this weekend and try to return home with the three points in the bag.”
Atzori will have three key players missing tomorrow as Alejandro Garzia, Kristijan Keqi and Andrei Ciolacu are all out of the equation as they must serve a one-match ban.
“It’s disappointing to have three very key players for us missing for such an important match,” the Floriana coach said.
“When you face the best teams in the division you always want to have all the players available but we cannot cry on spilt milk and we have to get on with it.
“But we are still going out on the pitch determined to do the best we can, particularly for our fans who are always behind us.
“Winning the league title may be a dream for us but my motto has always been never say never and we will give it our best shot.”
Ħamrun, on the other hand, come into the match on the back of two frustrating outings in the last week.
After coming back from two goals down to grind out a point against Balzan, on Wednesday the Spartans were held to a goalless draw by Birkirkara, albeit the result of this match is subject to a protest filed by the Reds, where they contend that the Stripes had 13 overseas players registered in their match squad, which will be heard today.
Those results have cost the Reds four important points in their chase of leaders Hibernians and coach Mark Buttigieg admitted that they must rediscover their winning touch against Floriana.
“It was disappointing for us to drop four points in our last two matches, but we were up against two quality sides in Balzan and Birkirkara,” Buttigieg said.
“Against Birkirkara in particular, there were certain episodes that could have swung the match either way and we failed to capitalise but now it’s time to look forward and focus on our match against Floriana.
“Floriana are without doubt the most in-form side in the division, as reflected by their four successive wins so it’s going to be crucial how we approach the match.
“This weekend’s match is going to be our fourth match in the space of a fortnight after the players have been five weeks without any competitive football and surely that has had an effect on their condition, but still it’s time for us to rise to the occasion.”
Buttigieg said that if Ħamrun are to step up their title challenge they need to start gaining the upperhand in balanced matches.
“In key matches like these it’s important that we capitalise when we have the upperhand during a particular phase of the match,” Buttigieg said.
“On many an occasion, this season when facing top sides we failed to punish our opponents and that has cost us some important points.
“But I have a lot of confidence in my players who are working very hard in training as they know that a win on Sunday could be a decisive result in our quest to remain in touch with the front-runners.”
The Spartans will again be without defender Steve Borg who must serve his second of a two-match ban.