High stakes as Valletta face Hibernians in top clashPublished: 06-12-2019 12:25
BOV Premier League
The BOV Premier League returns after the break for FA Trophy matches with Sunday’s clash between champions Valletta and rivals Hibernians, runners-up last season, topping the bill on Matchday 12. Balzan vs Ħamrun Spartans (Friday – National Stadium, 7pm) Matchday 12 of the 2019-20 BOV Premier League kicks off with the encounter between Balzan and Ħamrun Spartans with the latter currently enjoying a three-point lead over their impending opponents. This is expected to be a balanced affair with Ħamrun coming from a goalless draw against Floriana before the FA Trophy break while Balzan will be seeking to make amends for their 2-1 defeat to Hibernians. Ħamrun Spartans coach Manuele Blasi is not expected to make many changes from the team that started the Floriana match. Balzan coach Jacques Scerri is strengthened by the return of Serb defender Nenad Sljivic who has completed a three-match ban. Floriana vs Sta Lucia (Saturday – Hibernians Stadium, 2pm) Leaders Floriana will be going all out to return to winning ways after successive draws against Hibernians and Ħamrun in their last two outings. They will be up against a Santa Lucia side determined to end their seven-match winless run, knowing that a win could lift them out of the bottom places. Brandon Paiber is back in the frame for Floriana after serving a one-match ban. The Greens, three points clear of Gżira United at the top, enjoyed an easy 6-1 win over Melita in the third round of the FA Trophy while Santa Lucia gained a boost after beating Sliema Wanderers 2-0. Santa Lucia coach Oliver Spiteri is expected to field his best formation. Gżira United vs Mosta (Saturday – Centenary Stadium, 2pm) Second-placed Gżira United face Mosta who are in ninth place. The Maroons have won six of their last seven league matches to boost their title bid. They beat Senglea Athletic 3-1 in their last league outing but lost 2-1 to the same team in the third round of the FA Trophy last weekend. Mosta are coming from three consecutive defeats – Floriana (3-1), Balzan (5-0) and Valletta (4-0). Ivorian striker Hamed Kone returns for Gżira United. Sliema Wanderers vs Birkirkara (Saturday – Hibernians Stadium, 4pm) Sliema Wanderers and Birkirkara will be going all out for the three points as they strive for consistency following a disappointing start to the season. It says all about the difficulties encountered by these two teams this season that Birkirkara are eighth with 13 points from 11 games while the Blues are two points behind. The Wanderers are coming from a 4-0 victory against Sta Lucia in the league but were eliminated by the same team in the FA Trophy last weekend. Birkirkara were 3-0 winners over Tarxien Rainbows in their last league match and also advanced to the fourth round of the FA Trophy following a last-gasp 1-0 win over Nadur Youngsters. Sliema Wanderers coach Alfonso Greco is hampered by the absence of three players as Kurt Shaw, Mark Scerri and Edmond Agius, all suspended. Gudja United vs Senglea Athletic (Saturday – Centenary Stadium, 4.15 pm) Gudja United, third from bottom and level on 11 points with Sliema Wanderers, face Senglea Athletic in a game neither side can afford to lose to boost their prospects of moving out of the lower reaches of the table. Gudja have taken seven points from their last three games but Senglea have picked up only one. In the FA Trophy, Senglea Athletic pulled off an upset as they knocked out Gżira United while Gudja United had the better of Lija Athletic. Both teams have some important players missing as Gudja’s Renold Winchester is suspended while Elvis Sakyi and Sean Cipriott are out of the equation for Senglea. Tarxien Rainbows vs Sirens (Sunday – National Stadium, 2 pm) High-flying Sirens will be optimistic about their chances of extending their positive run as they face bottom side Tarxien Rainbows. On the other hand, Tarxien will surely be going all out to gain their first points and perhaps kickstart their season after 11 consecutive defeats. Sirens, level with Valletta on 21 points in third place, have Raphael Dos Anjos suspended while Flavio Cheveresan returns. The Rainbows have Daniel Zerafa missing due to suspension. Valletta vs Hibernians (Sunday – National Stadium, 4pm) Without doubt, this is the most-awaited game of the weekend as it’s the first clash this season between rivals Valletta, the current champions, and Hibernians, runners-up last season. After an indifferent start, Valletta have made up some lost ground on leaders Floriana, climbing up to third place, just four behind the Greens. The Whites have won four and drawn one of their last five league games. Hibernians have also improved significantly of late, winning three and drawing once in their last four league matches to move up to fifth, one point behind Valletta. With the first round nearing its conclusion, this is a match neither side can afford to lose if they are to keep the pace at the top. Valletta overpowered Mosta (4-0) in their last game while Hibernians beat Balzan (2-1). Both teams progressed to the fourth round of the FA Trophy as Valletta defeated St Andrews 4-0 and the Paolites saw off Żejtun Corinthians 3-0. Defender Joseph Zerafa returns from suspension for Valletta.