The BOV Challenge League is at the most exciting stage of its season, with just a few matches to go to decide who will be heading up to the BOV Premier League, and who will be going down to the BOV Amateur League.
While teams in the Top Six have their minds at ease that if not promoted, their status in the second tier is secure, the majority of the Playout Pool is on its toes. While it may be one team at risk of being part of the six relegated sides, the turn of the week could show different contenders.
Lija Athletic stand fifth in the Playout Pool this week after new signing Kotaro Kishi gave the side a 1-0 win over penultimate team Mtarfa. Despite the minimal score, Lija coach Joseph Galea admits the three points were vital for his side.
“I believe we had a good performance,” Galea told the Times of Malta.
“Mtarfa are a team who do not concede many goals, so we knew it was going to be tough to score against them. However, I think we were the better team and we deserved to win the match.”
Lija being in such a position is not a common sight, particularly in these last few seasons, the club also having featured in the Premier League twice in the last six years. Galea admits the club’s primary target was to secure a Top Six spot but now, the focus has shifted to achieving safety as quickly as possible.
“Having six teams relegated is not a good thing at all in my opinion. I disagreed with it from the start because it was every coach’s nightmare to be in Challenge League this season. You never know how the season will turn out and then you have half of the Playout Pool getting relegated,” he said.
“With 30 points, you are not even safe. But those are the rules and we knew about them from day one, so we have to try and get as many points as possible to avoid being with the bottom teams.
“Our objective was to be with the top six teams. We missed that – in some games we were unlucky, some we were careless. But now we have to work harder in these last few games to secure our status as soon as possible.”
‘A good mix’
Last weekend’s match against Mtarfa was doubly important for Lija midfielder Daniel Scerri and goalkeeper Luke Bonnici who celebrated their 400th and 300th match with the club respectively.
‘Is- Suki’ Scerri, has been with Lija since 2003 except for a two-season stint with Gzira United. Bonnici, on the other hand, was also on the books of Hibernians and Senglea Athletic before establishing himself as the club’s No.1.
“Suki is a very important player for Lija as apart from being a player, he is a person who is very important for our dressing room,” Galea said of Scerri.
“To achieve 400 matches with a club in today’s generation is nothing short of amazing and this comes due to him being a gentleman – all the other players have great respect for him and I do as well because since I’ve been here, he has been a great help to me. We’ve won two promotions together and I believe he is a vital part of our team.
“Luke Bonnici has played 300 games for us too and just like Scerri, he is very important for the club. Both players are figureheads who have made a very strong contribution and I believe they still have lots to give.”
Asked about the squad’s dynamic, Galea believes that while veteran players like Scerri, Bonnici, Clayton Giordimaina, and Mead Mifsud, who joined from Naxxar lions over the summer, have a big role within the club, the target was to form a younger team.
“I think the team has a good mix. We have a lot of young players and in fact, one of our targets this season was to reduce the average age. We have three or four veterans, but we also have players who are up and coming.
“The atmosphere at the club is very good, even though sometimes it depends on the way we are doing in matches. We haven’t had the best of seasons especially because of injuries and all.
“In fact, it hasn’t been easy since the beginning – we lost Erjon (Beu), who is definitely one of our best players, after just a few games and he has been out for a while. But I believe we have a good group of players who are capable of making it.
“Obviously it won’t be easy, and every game will be a final. All the teams are of the same level and I believe the season will go on until the very end, in order to confirm who will get relegated. This is an extraordinary situation with six teams this season.
Tarxien R. vs Żejtun C. 2-3
Melita vs Sliema W. 0-2
Naxxar L. Żurrieq 3-0
Mtarfa vs Lija A. 0-1
Vittoriosa S. vs Attard 1-3
Swieqi U. vs Marsaskala 2-1
San Ġwann vs Qrendi 0-1
Marsa vs Fgura Utd 1-3
Mqabba vs St Andrews 0-1
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