Cain Attard has hailed Birkirkara’s character as the Stripes handed Premier League leaders Hibernians their first defeat of the season to blow this season’s title race wide open.
It looked as though the Stripes were firmly in control on Saturday when goals from Luke Montebello and Attard put them two goals ahead at the interval. But Hibernians fought back strongly after the interval and managed to restore parity courtesy of goals from Ferdinando Apap and Hugo Vieira.
Birkirkara refused to panic, and they soon rediscovered their poise with Montebello firing home the winner to hand his team a crucial victory in their quest to challenge for the Premier League title.
Hibernians’ defeat has inevitably thrown wide open this season’s race as the Paolites are now just one point ahead of Floriana with Birkirkara in third place, six points adrift.
Attard admitted that Saturday’s match against Hibernians represented the team’s last chance of remaining in this season’s title race and coming out with all three points was a massive achievement.
“It was a very important win for us,” the Malta defender said.
“Had we failed to beat Hibs, we would have fallen behind in this season’s title race. We were well prepared for the match as we knew that we were facing a strong team who were still unbeaten.
“Our first-half performance was very good, and I felt that we deserved our two-goal lead. After the break, Hibs came out strong and managed to level the match.
“Inevitably, at that moment doubts will start to creep into your mind and I was fearing that we were set for a repeat to what happened against Sirens late last year when we threw away a two-goal lead and lost the match 3-2.
“But this time, the team remained very strong mentally and tried to be positive and our attitude was rewarded with the winning goal.”
Attard said that while a win against Hibernians was a huge confidence boost, he refused to talk up his team’s hopes of winning the title this season and said that their main goal at the moment remained to qualify for European club competitions.
“It’s a win that instils a lot of confidence no doubt,” he said.
“But we have achieved nothing yet and we still have a lot of work to do. There are still eight matches to go until the end of the season and our main goal remains to challenge for a place in Europe.
“The win against Birkirkara has all but assured us of a place in the Championship Pool and the next goal is to try and win as many matches as possible to preserve a top three placing. If towards the end of the season, we are in with a chance to win the title, then we will give it our best shot, but we should keep our feet firmly on the ground and focus on our next match.”
Next up for Birkirkara is a clash against relegation strugglers Sta Lucia on Sunday and Attard said that he is expecting a very tricky test from the side coached by former Stripes coach Giovanni Tedesco, while adding that failure to pick all three points would turn the Hibs result as futile.
“This is one of the most challenging Premier League campaigns for several years with every team capable of winning against any side so you cannot underestimate anyone,” he said.
“Our last three fixtures are against teams who are in the bottom half of the standings, namely Sta Lucia, Sliema Wanderers and Valletta and we need to approach them with the right mindset or risk to drop valuable points.
“Fine details determine the outcome of such matches and if we are not 100 per cent sharp we risk to drop points.
“It was key to win against Hibs but if we drop points against Sta Lucia, that result would have been for nothing.”