Hibernians have little margin of error in their quest for European football this season when they face rivals Balzan at the Tony Bezzina Stadium tomorrow (kick-off: 2pm).
The Malta champions are passing through a bleak run of results as three successive league defeats have put the team at serious risk of missing out on a top-three finish that would guarantee them an automatic place in the UEFA Conference League qualifiers next summer.
In fact, the Paolites are currently fourth in the standings, four adrift of third-placed Birkirkara. The pressure is on Hibernians as they are aware that they cannot afford to drop any points against a Balzan side who are just three points behind them while Mosta can easily leapfrog them as they are one behind.
Coach Andrea Pisanu admitted to the Times of Malta that they cannot afford to drop any points at this stage of the season.
“There is no hiding that this is a very important match for our hopes,” Pisanu said.
“As I always say, every match is important but at this stage of the season, you have to take all the points at stake from every match. We are heading into this match on the back of three successive defeats so it is clear that there
are some things that we need to adjust.”
Asked is if they are feeling more pressure after last week’s disappointing 2-0 defeat to Gżira United, Pisanu said: “I think we need to believe more in ourselves. Against Gżira United we were up against another strong side and we shared the exchanges with them for a long spell. We ended up conceding the first goal with a lapse in concentration.
“But in the second half, we improved and we had the chances to pull the score level but failed to take them and Gżira punished us with a second goal.
“I believe that we need to pay more attention to key details in the match and have more conviction that we can take all the points at stake.
“This weekend we have another tough match against a Balzan side who are led by a very good coach and have some excellent individual elements who are in great form. It will be important that we are focused on the job right from the outset.
“We were never a team of phenomenons when we went on a run of nine positive results and won the Super Cup and now we are not a failure because of going through a struggling run.
“It’s important that we are fully focused on the task we have in hand.”
While Hibs are struggling, Balzan are passing through one of their best seasons in recent years as Oliver Spiteri’s men have put behind them two campaigns where they battled for relegation and are now in the running for a place in European football.
“Our goal this season was to try and do better than the last two campaigns where the team battled against the drop,” Spiteri told the Times of Malta.
“We made a lot of changes at the start of the season and our goal was to try and put the team in the top half of the standings. So far we have managed to do that but we are not looking too far ahead. We are taking it one game at a time and trying and take the maximum from every match.
“To qualify for European football would be a great achievement for our club and while we are still with a mathematical chance of attaining a place in Europe there is no harm in dreaming of reaching this goal.
“The players are working very well in training and I am confident that we will arrive for this match very well prepared to try and give everything we have.”
Spiteri said that Hibs may be passing through a difficult time but they remain a force in Maltese football.
“Hibs are still a very strong team in the Premier League,” Spiteri said.
“They boast some great players in their squad, like Jake Grech, Jurgen Degabriele, and Kurt Shaw just to name a few while they also have some good overseas players who have fitted well.
“No doubt, it’s going to be a very difficult match for us. As I said we have prepared well for this match and whoever will be the better team on the day will take the three points.
“One thing that I can promise is that my team is ready to go out and give everything they have and we will see what happens.”
Floriana vs Ħamrun Spartans 14.00
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TONY BEZZINA STADIUM
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Pieta H. Vs Gżira Utd 18.15
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TONY BEZZINA STADIUM
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Marsaxlokk vs Żebbuġ R. 16.15
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