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Hibernians test for Floriana, Birkirkara face Valletta tonight

Published: Fri 09 Feb 2024, 13:00
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BOV Premier League 2023/24 Match Day 16 Preview

Valletta v Birkirkara (Today, National Stadium, 19h)
An early Friday night start of this match day, a fixture which is always enthralling featuring two teams among the leaders in local football over recent years. It is a rather tough campaign so far for both this season.
The Stripes started the season considerably well, faltering along the way with change in coach in December which did not help their cause. Winless in their last three league encounters, this encounter could be seen for Birkirkara as one of the final opportunities to challenge for a European spot next season.
On the other hand, after enduring a terrible run late last year, Valletta have recently improved in terms of results and their quality on the pitch is finally reaping benefits in terms of better results, undefeated in their last four outings in all competitions.
Looking at the suspension list for this match day, new Birkirkara coach Jose Borg and his counterpart with Valletta, Enzo Potenza, have no selection issues, apart from a few doubtful starters.
First round encounter when the sides met earlier in this campaign, it finished all square in a 1-1 draw result. In fact, Valletta failed to beat Birkirkara in their last six Premier League encounters, recording four draws and two Birkirkara victories. Therefore, the 4-2 win on 21 September 2020 remains the last win for the Citizens over the yellows.

Balzan v Santa Lucia (Tomorrow, Tony Bezzina Stadium, 14h)
This match serves as an opportunity for Balzan to return to winning ways, as they have recorded just one win from their last six league outings. It is therefore imperative for Oliver Spiteri’s side to secure the all three points and avoid being pushed down further the table.
Santa Lucia will obviously have other thoughts, they are coming from two back-to-back defeats against Floriana and Hibernians, while their Cup upset against third tier side Mgarr United on Wednesday will not help their morale either. However, the Saints are not totally doomed, they have recently chalked up some valuable league wins, but the 90 minutes ahead tomorrow could result in another testament for the team of Alessandro Zinnari in their pathway to survival.
Thanks to a goal by Aleksandar Katanic, Balzan attained the all three points in a 1-0 win when the sides met in the reverse fixture back in September. It was the third consecutive victory of Balzan over Santa Lucia in the Premier League.
There are no suspension issues for both teams.

Hibernians v Floriana (Tomorrow, National Stadium, 14h)
Another high profile fixture tomorrow as Hibernians rub shoulders with Floriana. A positive league run for both in recent outings, Hibernians winning their last two encounters, pushing them up in the table and probably put an end once and for all to any fears they could be involved in a relegation battle towards the tail end of this campaign. However, it needs to be seen how Branko Nisevic’ side will deal with their shock exit from the Trophy, as Gzira United managed to beat the Peacocks by a solitary goal last Wednesay.
Floriana have also re-installed their winning touch, also winning their last two league matches, as the team is again showing signs of being competitive, also with the right attitude and mentality in their objective of staying toe to toe with the Spartans till the end for the league title. They proved they can score goals too as last Tuesday, Challenge league outfit Zebbug Rangers were beaten with the emphatic score of 7-1.
The first round encounter saw Floriana record a 2-0 win over the Paolites thanks to a brace by Kemar Reid, the first league win for the Irish over Hibernians since 2018. The match can be categorized as a classic as it is one of just seven matches played over 200 times in Maltese football, to be exact this will be the 228th clash between the two in history. Hibernians won 87 of the previous 227, Floriana 81 while the other 59 ended in a draw.  

Sliema Wanderers v Mosta (Tomorrow, Tony Bezzina Stadium, 16h15)
Third-placed Sliema Wanderers will be all guns blazing tomorrow, determined to return to winning ways and cement their magnificent ranking following two back-to-back draw results in the BOV Premier League.
Against Mosta, they start favourites to secure the all three points, bearing in mind nonetheless that Mosta will be chasing valuable points in their quest for Premier League survival. They are undefeated in over a month and that is an encouraging sign that the team is building confidence and their efforts in recent matches have surely paid dividends.
Both teams won their 2nd round FA Trophy encounters in midweek, with the Wanderers beating Balzan by a solitary goal, while Mosta managed to beat Valletta by the odd goal in three.
Mosta defender Willie Britto will miss the Sliema encounter as he needs to sit out a one match ban due to the accumulated yellow cards rule. Paul Zammit’s side should be at full strength.
Sliema Wanderers have won the reverse fixture back in September, sweeping apart their opponents emphatically in a 3-0-win result. It was however Sliema’s first win in five matches against Mosta, as the latter managed to beat the Wanderers in the four previous encounters during seasons 2019/20, 20/21 and 22/23.

Naxxar Lions v Gzira United (Tomorrow, National Stadium, 16h15)
This is a dual between teams who are pushing to widen the gap on the teams at the bottom.
The Lions will be looking to bounce back from the thumping defeat against Hamrun at the weekend. Gzira United also avoided defeat in a 1-1 stalemate against Balzan on Sunday, earning the Maroons a priceless point to stir them further from perilous territories, also maintaining this favourable run of positive results since Andrew Cohen took over at the helm as a new coach.
While Naxxar coach George Vella has no suspension issues, Maroons wing back Marcelo Dias will be out of this match due to serve a one match suspension.
Despite the fact that both clubs have been around long, it will be only the tenth meeting between the two in history. Gzira won five of the previous nine, Naxxar two and there were two draws. The Lions have never beaten Gzira in the top flight however, as during season 2017/18, Gzira achieved a ‘double’ over the Lions while both teams shared the spoils in this season’s first round encounter, a 1-1 draw.

Gudja United v Hamrun Spartans (Sunday, Tony Bezzina Stadium, 14h)
Its first against bottom on Sunday as Hamrun Spartans meet Gudja United for the second time in four days, with the Spartans beating the Gudjans already 3-0 in the FA Trophy on Thursday night. Albeit Hamrun have two key players through suspension, Steve Borg and Jonny do Nascimento, they are still likely to cement their leading role as we head through this important phase of the league with matches coming thick and fast. Gudja United perhaps already understand their destiny for next season, this campaign has been incredibly tough for them as to date still looking for their first league win. At least, coach Renzo Kerr-Cumbo has not suspension issues and could therefore field his
Hamrun Spartans have lately found some rhythm, are enjoying their football, in very high spirits and full of confidence having won their last eight in all competitions.
Coach Luciano Zauri is finally radiating his methods and style of play to his players, and the team is responding immaculately, notching up winnable results in their pursuit of winning a possible tenth league title.
It will be the 11th meeting in the Premier League between the two, with Hamrun winning six of the previous ten, two draws and two Gudja wins, who managed to beat the Spartans twice in the space of two months in 2022, two narrow 1-0 victories. The Gudjans would certainly sign for such a result again.

Sirens v Marsaxlokk (Sunday, Tony Bezzina Stadium, 16h15)
The last match of Match Day 16 is regarded as another opportunity for Marsaxlokk to climb further up the table and keep alive their realistic chances of challenging for Europe. The Seasiders are performing superbly, their recent run undefeated in the last five in all competitions is a testament how far this group of players has gone, with coach Winston Muscat navigating proceedings, against Sirens they will start favourites to continue this fantastic run of results.
Sirens have at least managed a draw in their last outing against Mosta, however hopes of avoiding the drop are fading. Against Marsaxlokk its fundamental for the Blues to avoid defeat or to snatch even an unexpected three points should the wind blow in their favour.
Gomda Hassan is missing through suspension for the team of Steve D’Amato, while Muscat needs to find a solution for the Ryan Scicluna ban, who is also suspended.  
Marsaxlokk emerged 3-1 winners when the sides met in the reverse fixture earlier this season, their only win over Sirens in the Premier League so far as last season, Sirens came out victors two hard earned wins (2-1 and 3-2).