Gżira United will be looking to bridge the gap on runaway leaders Ħamrun Spartans when the Premier League pacesetters go head to head at the Tony Bezzina Stadium on Sunday (kick-off: 3pm).
This top-of-the-table clash pits against each other the only two teams in the division that are still unbeaten after the opening eight matches, with the Spartans currently holding a comfortable-looking four-point advantage over the Maroons.
In the last few weeks, Gżira United have put in some impressive performances in the league, particularly with wins over champions Hibernians and FA Trophy winners Floriana, which has boosted their status as genuine challengers for the title crown this season.
On Sunday, the Maroons have the chance to prove that they have the credentials to mount a serious title challenge.
But coach Darren Abdilla wants his players to focus on themselves and try and maintain their high level of performances shown of late.
“Whoever plays against Ħamrun Spartans is aware that they will be up against the team to beat in this year’s championship, given the quality of their squad and the financial investment the club has done this summer,” Abdilla said.
“Personally, what interests me most is that my players show a high level of consistency in their performance against the most-quoted side in the division. So far, there has been a lot of positives in our performances this season.
“We boast the third best defensive record in the division and have not conceded a goal in the last four matches and have scored the highest number of goals.
“If we win the match it doesn’t mean that will win the championship but it would be a strong sign that we have what it takes to reach our main goal – to qualify for European football this summer.”
Last week, Gżira United could not break down a stubborn Valletta defence and had to settle for a point following a goalless draw.
Abdilla said that he was impressed by the hunger shown by the Valletta players who were determined not to lose another match and he is hopeful that his players can show the same kind of fight against Ħamrun.
“Against Valletta the team played well but we had in front of us a Valletta team who had more fight and determination not to lose the match,” Abdilla said.
“I was impressed by the spirit shown by Valletta last week and I hope my players can show the same character in what promises to be a tough match against Ħamrun.
“Football matches are won by the attitude shown by the players and for us this match is an opportunity to show that we are capable of fighting for the top positions.
“Everything will depend on our approach.”
Gżira will be forced to make one change to his starting formation as midfielder Luis Riascos is ruled out with a one-match ban.
Ħamrun, on the other hand, are set to welcome back in the fray goalkeeper Henry Bonello who missed the 2-1 win over Mosta due to illness.
Branko Nisevic, the Ħamrun Spartans coach, said that he is bracing himself for a very tough test, against what he described as ‘one of the best three teams in the championship’.
“We are expecting a very hard match against a very tough opponent,” Nisevic said.
“Gżira United boast some real quality players and we need to be at the top of our game.
“They have a very dangerous forward line with Jefferson and Maxuell Maia who are capable of scoring a lot of goals while they are also very solid from a defensive point of view.
“For me, Gżira United are one of the best three sides in the division and they have been playing well lately. Our approach has to be top notch or we will be in big trouble.”
The Spartans come into the match on the back of a hard-fought 2-1 win over Mosta.
Nisevic admitted that his team was not at his best against Mosta and said that they have been working hard in midweek to try and perform better.
“Against Mosta it was a very tough test as we struggled with their transition play and that is one area we need to work on,” Nisevic said.
“I still think we managed to control the game but our speed of play was not good enough. I feel that we need to move the ball faster as we are struggling to beat our opponents’ pressing line.
“Against a team like Gżira we need to do better and I hope the players will be up for the challenge.”
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