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Ħamrun Spartans, Birkirkara battle for supremacy in top clash

Ħamrun Spartans defender Ognjen Bjelicic (left) is challenged by Jean Marie Nnomo. Photo: Domenic Aquilina

The two most in-form sides in the BOV Premier League this season, Ħamrun Spartans and Birkirkara, will go head-to-head in a fascinating encounter at the National Stadium this afternoon (kick-off: 3pm).

Both the Spartans and the Stripes have shown remarkable consistency at the start of this season’s league trek with the Reds managing to win all their opening six matches so far to lead the way on 18 points, while Birkirkara amassed five wins and one draw to sit in second place, just two points adrift.

These may still be early days to label this match as a crucial fixture in this season’s title race. However, there is no hiding that for both teams this match can give a better picture of their credentials for this season’s championship battle.

Branko Nisevic, the Ħamrun Spartans coach, said that the 2020 champions are bracing themselves for a very difficult test.

“It’s a big match for us,” Nisevic told the Times of Malta.

“It’s a clash between two main contenders for this season’s title crown. Birkirkara have shown in recent weeks that they possess a very competitive team. Their results this season have surely been no coincidence, they do boast a very talented group of players and no doubt we need to be at our best.

“They are a team who press high on the pitch and play direct football but their biggest characteristic is their never-say-die attitude and that makes them very dangerous opponents.”

Last week, the Spartans bagged their sixth successive win after edging past Valletta 1-0. Against their neighbouring rivals, Ħamrun dominated long parts of the match but failed to kill off their opponents with the result that they experienced some anxious moments in the second half.

Nisevic admitted that his team needed to be more ruthless in front of goal.

“In general, I have been very pleased with how the team has performed so far,” Nisevic said.

“For the majority of matches, we are controlling the game but I feel that for the number of chances we are creating we are not scoring enough and that can put you under pressure, as happened against Valletta last week.

“We need to be more ruthless in front of goal and that is something we are working on. On the other hand, I am very pleased with the way we are defending as we are conceding very few goals and that is something we need to continue to build on.”

Birkirkara, on the other hand, are approaching today’s match against the Spartans as the perfect opportunity to gauge their competitiveness in this season’s title race.

Coach Giovanni Tedesco admitted that his team were bracing themselves in facing ‘the strongest team in the championship’ and that is a challenge they are relishing.

“It’s clear that we are going to face the strongest team in this year’s championship,” Tedesco said.

“It would be a great test for my team and it is great when you are involved in such key clashes.

“I have been very pleased with the form shown by my players so far this season,
particularly after the difficult pre-season we had.

“This summer, we made a lot of changes to our squad and obviously we needed time to come together as a team and start functioning well. I never thought we could achieve these results, but I am very pleased.”

Asked what pleased him most of this year’s Birkirkara team, Tedesco singled out his team’s fighting qualities.

“For me it’s very satisfying to see the team following my principles and it’s clear that the players are showing the kind of battling qualities that I always look for in a football team,” Tedesco said.

“There have been many situations when the team found itself on the backfoot, but the players continued to fight and never threw in the towel and that is great to see.

“It’s important to take such approach against Ħamrun Spartans where it will be vital that the team plays a perfect match.

“As I said Ħamrun Spartans boast a very strong squad and they are led by a great coach, but while we will give them the respect they deserve, we will surely throw everything we have at them and see what happens.

“We are going out to take the three points as always.”

PROGRAMME

PLAYING TODAY
NATIONAL STADIUM
Birkirkara vs Ħamrun S. 15.00
Mosta vs Valletta 17.15

TOMORROW
TONY BEZZINA STADIUM
Żebbuġ R. vs Pietà H. 15.00
Sta Lucia vs Hibernians 17.15

NATIONAL STADIUM
Gżira Utd vs Floriana 15.00
Balzan vs Sirens 17.15

PLAYING MONDAY
TONY BEZZINA STADIUM
Gudja Utd vs Marsaxlokk 19.30

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