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Floriana, Hibs battle for supremacy as title race enters decisive stage

Floriana striker Andrei Ciolacu shoots at goal despite the challenge of Andrei Agius. Photo: Domenic Aquilina

Floriana and Hibernians will be battling for supremacy ahead of the third and final round of the 2021-22 BOV Premier League as the two title rivals go head to head at the National Stadium on Saturday (kick-off: 6pm).

At present, Floriana are currently enjoying a one-point lead over the Paolites and the Greens will be looking to emerge unbeaten from this direct clash to ensure they start the third and final round of the championship in pole position.

Hibernians, on the other hand, will be hellbent to reclaim first place in the standings, a position they held for the majority of this season and will hope that having more experienced personnel in their ranks will help them to regain control of this season’s title race

This season, the Premier League is being played on a different format as at the end of this week’s final round of matches, the 12 teams in the division will be split into two categories with the top six battling for the title and the European spots in the Championship Pool with the other six sides fighting to maintain their top-flight status in the Relegation Pool.

With the third and final round seeing teams playing just five matches before the final verdicts of the season will be sealed, tomorrow’s clash between Floriana and Hibernians holds huge significance.

Nobody this season could imagine that Floriana, who went through a huge rejuvenation process in their squad at the start of the season, would be among the main challengers for this year’s title crown.

But coach Gianluca Atzori said that the team is determined to keep their title dream alive with a strong performance against Hibernians that could put them four points clear at the top.

“Nobody expected Floriana to face Hibernians in a match that could decide who will be crowned as Malta champions this season,” Atzori told the Times of Malta.

“We have had a sensational season so far and we are ahead of a strong Hibernians side who had held top spot for almost 20 matches this season.

“Our run this season has surprised many as there were other teams like Birkirkara and Ħamrun Spartans who were expected to be in our position given their bigger transfer budget. But now that we are on top we are going to give it our best shot and we don’t want to wake up from this dream.

“All praise should go to the players for the great work they are doing every week but also to my technical staff and also to the club administration who put faith in our project, which supposedly should have led us to a title challenge in three years’ time and not on the first year.”

Atzori said that Floriana’s biggest asset this year is that they don’t have any fear to go and play their attacking football against any team this season.

“My team has a lot of courage to always play their style of football irrespective of our opponents,” Atzori said.

“I always try and push my players to play their game and give it their best shot. There were matches where we lost to better teams but that never stopped us as we quickly got back on our feet and moved on.

“We know that we are facing a very strong and experienced team and it will be important that we are focused right from the outset. If we commit the smallest of mistakes we will be punished so we need to be focused right from the start if we are to return home with the result we want.”

On his part, Andrei Agius, Hibernians’ experienced defender, admitted that this is a very important match for the title ambitions of teams and said that the Paolites must continue to show their real character and ambition if they are to emerge victorious tomorrow.

“There is no doubt that whoever wins this match will have gained an edge in this year’s title race, although the championship will not be decided on Saturday,” the Malta defender said.

“With five matches still to go in the third and final round, everything can still happen as there will be a lot of direct clashes.

“There have been many matches this season when the team has shown strong character to win tight matches, as happened against Gudja United and Balzan, and we need to show that kind of spirit against Floriana.

“It’s true that, at the moment, the team is trying to overcome some issues, such as our difficulty to scoring goals in matches but these are spells that every team passes through during a season.

“But we have enough experience to deal with these situations and if we approach the match with the right frame of mind, I’m confident we can get the right result on Saturday.”

Agius admitted that tomorrow’s match is bringing against each other two teams who have two contrasting styles of play.

“If you look at how the two teams play, we are talking of two completely different teams,” Agius said.

“Hibernians are a more technical side who like to play a lot of possession football while on the other hand, Floriana are more direct in their attacking forays and base their play on pace and aggression.

“But we are blessed to have a group of players who have the experience to deal with all Floriana will bring to the match and hopefully the best team will prevail.

“In this part of the season, when you find yourself in a title race it’s normal to feel a lot of pressure to win matches so it’s up to us to ensure we control our emotions so we can play our best football.”

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