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BOV Premier League

Third place, relegation battle take centre stage on final day of the season

Ħamrun striker Franklin Sasere is challenged by Enrico Pepe. Photo: Domenic Aquilina

The final chapter of the 2021-22 BOV Premier League will be written in the next few days when the final matches of this season’s championship are played over the next three days.

With Hibernians already mathematically the Maltese champions, all focus will be set upon who will be representing Malta in the UEFA Conference League and which side will join Sliema Wanderers in the Challenge League next season.

The relegation battle will be the first verdict that is decided tomorrow evening when Balzan and Sta Lucia will look to bag all three points from their respective matches against Sliema Wanderers and Valletta respectively in the hope of retaining their top-flight status.

Last weekend’s results from the Play Out group threw the relegation race wide open as while Balzan produced a stunning fightback to see off Sirens 3-2, Santa Lucia suffered a surprising 2-1 defeat at the hands of the already relegated Sliema Wanderers.

The result left Balzan and Sta Lucia level sharing the second from bottom spot on 27 points.

Both teams’ main goal this weekend will be that of winning their clash and hoping their rival will drop points to ensure they secure their place in the Premier League next season. If both Santa Lucia and Balzan finish on the same number of points this week, a relegation decider will be played between the two sides on Saturday, May 14.

Balzan, now under the charge of Aleandro Pantoja following the departure of Paul Zammit, will hope their players can carry the positive momentum generated by their win over Sirens and ensure they end what has been a disappointing campaign with a victory over the Wanderers that would at least force a decider.

Still, Balzan will be fully aware not to underestimate the Wanderers, who may have lost their top-flight status but will surely be hellbent to finish the campaign with a positive result.

Pantoja will have a key player missing tomorrow as Serbian winger Uros Ljubomirac, who has been in top form lately, is out following a one-match ban.

Santa Lucia FC, on paper, have a tougher assignment against Valletta FC.

The Saints will be aware of the threat posed by Valletta FC, who may have long assured themselves of salvation but will be keen to make up for last week’s disappointing 3-2 defeat to Mosta.

Santa Lucia coach Giovanni Tedesco will no doubt have worked hard to restore his players’ confidence after their unexpected defeat to Sliema Wanderers.

The southerners had shown impressive form in recent weeks and will surely need to be at their best if they are to clinch the three points against Valletta to keep alive their hopes of retaining their top-flight status.

For this match, Valletta will be without wingback Enmy Pena Beltre who is suspended.

On Saturday, the race for third place in the BOV Premier League will be on top of the agenda as Ħamrun Spartans will be looking to fend off Birkirkara and Gżira United and secure a return to European football after a 30-year-absence.

At present, third-placed Ħamrun Spartans are enjoying a one-point lead over Birkirkara while Gżira United are two points further adrift.

The Spartans face a direct clash against Birkirkara at the National Stadium with the winner of this match securing his place in the UEFA Conference League irrespective of what Gżira United do against Hibernians in the day’s other fixture at the Tony Bezzina Stadium.

Ħamrun come into the match on the back of some bright performances lately which saw them record wins against Hibernians and Gżira United while last weekend, they were agonisingly close to seeing off Floriana had they not missed a last-minute penalty.

Coach Branko Nisevic will hope his players maintain their momentum and show more clinical finishing in the final third if they are to complete the job against the Stripes.

However, Birkirkara will be no pushovers as the Stripes will be hellbent to bounce back from their 3-1 defeat against Hibernians as they look to reclaim the third spot that they held for so long this season.

Coach Jonathan Holland will be without midfielder Yannick Yankam who is suspended.

Gżira United will be up against Hibs at the Tony Bezzina Stadium and will be hoping that the newly-crowned champions will be distracted by their title celebrations as they look to bag the three points and hope the match between Ħamrun and Birkirkara will finish in a draw to force a decider against the Spartans.

PROGRAMME

PLAYING ON THURSDAY

NATIONAL STADIUM

Gudja United vs Floriana          19.00

TONY BEZZINA STADIUM

Mosta vs Sirens            19.00

PLAYING ON FRIDAY

NATIONAL STADIUM

Valletta vs Sta Lucia    19.00

TONY BEZZINA STADIUM

Sliema W. Balzan         19.00

PLAYING SATURDAY

NATIONAL STADIUM

Birkirkara vs Ħamrun S.            16.00

TONY BEZZINA STADIUM         

Gżira Utd vs Hibernians            16.00

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