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Hibernians, Gżira United look to stay close with Premier League pacesetters

Floriana's Jan Busuttil is sandwiched by Gżira United duo Steve Pisani (centre) and Zak Scerri. Photo: Domenic Aquilina

Champions Hibernians and Gżira United are bracing themselves for tricky encounters as they look to keep up their chase of leaders Ħamrun Spartans in Match-Day 8 of the BOV Premier League this weekend.

Hibernians and Gżira United experienced an inconsistent start to their Premier League campaign but in recent weeks both teams seem to have turned up the screw as they look to stay close to league leaders Ħamrun Spartans.

The Paolites head into this weekend’s round of fixtures in high spirits as three wins in a row have seen the Malta champions move up to fifth place in the standings on 13 points, but still six points adrift of leaders Ħamrun.

On Saturday afternoon, Hibernians have the opportunity to have a reality check of their current form when they face Gudja United at the Tony Bezzina Stadium.

The Paolites have yet to convince their sceptics this season as the team is still not showing the same level of football that saw them race to the Premier League title last May.

In their last three outings, Hibernians did manage to take maximum spoils with victories over Balzan (2-0), Żebbuġ Rangers (1-0) and Sta Lucia (3-2) but the team was far from convincing, particularly against Żebbuġ and Sta Lucia.

No doubt, coach Pisanu will hope his charges can finally show their real potential in what promises to be a fascinating battle against a Gudja United side who has been the real revelation this season.

Gudja will surely have a point to prove, particularly after a disappointing performance in Monday’s 2-1 defeat to Marsaxlokk, which was their first upset of the season.

Coach Andrea Agostinelli expects a strong response from his players to prove that their promising early-season form was no flash in the pan.

On the other hand, Gżira United will be keen to keep up the pressure on leaders Ħamrun when they face Valletta in Saturday’s second match at the National Stadium.

The Maroons, who are sharing second spot alongside Birkirara on 17 points, two adrift of the Spartans, start as firm favourites to take maximum spoils against a stuttering Valletta side.

Darren Abdilla’s team are in rich vein of form as they head into the match on the back of four successive Premier League victories that included impressive wins against Hibernians (2-1) and Floriana (1-0).

No doubt, Gżira will feel confident of maintaining their impressive run against a Valletta team who are in a bit of a crisis after suffering four successive defeats which saw them slip in tenth place in the standings, with just five points to show.

The Citizens look short of confidence and their season took a turn for the worse last week when they slumped to a disappointing 3-1 defeat to Mosta, a result which again showcased the team’s troubles both in attack and in defence.

Valletta coach Thane Micallef will hope his team can provide the right response with a strong performance and Gżira United to try and ease the pressure and avoid being usurped in a relegation battle this season.

Leaders Ħamrun Spartans will be looking to return to winning ways when they face Mosta in Saturday’s opening match at the National Stadium.

Last week, the Spartans dropped their first points of the season when they were held by Birkirkara to a goalless draw and coach Branko Nisevic will hope to see his team rediscover their lethal touch in front of goal as they look to pick up all three points at stake.

Still, they will be wary of the threat posed by a Mosta side, who despite fielding several young players this season, have proved to be tricky opponents as mirrored by their 1-1 draw to Floriana and their comfortable win over Valletta last week.

The weekend programme kicks off on Friday evening when Sirens will be looking to pick up their first win of the season when they face Żebbuġ Rangers at the Tony Bezzina Stadium.

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