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Watch: Few signings and Spartans ready for Conference League group stages – Nisevic

Ħamrun Spartans striker Elvis Mashike (right) controls the ball ahead of Karl Micallef. Photo: Jonathan Borg

Winning silverware is not always a guarantee for success. Yet, the ninth league title coupled with their European exploits in their return to European football after an absence of 30 years, made this a memorable season for Ħamrun Spartans.

It is for this reason that it was baffling when Branko Niservic announced that the club president Joseph Portelli had sacked him after the conclusion of what could be considered a very successful campaign.

The Serbian coach, who arrived just one-and-half years ago from Nadur, was relieved of his duties by Portelli after discussions that took place two months ago, the same Nisevic confirmed.

“It was in the air, the rumours have been going around for months now, “ Nisevic said as he tried to play down the dramatic announcement, which arrived minutes after steering the team to their ninth title.

“We met four or five weeks again and the president explained to me his decision,” he added.

“I do not agree with the president’s analysis. For me it’s not logical but what can you do about it?” a very pragmatic Nisevic asked.

Not even with the benefit of hindsight that Nisevic could find any failings in his approach.

“Listen, this year we changed half of the squad and this group of players has the potential to grow further and gel more as a team,” he added.

Video: Chris Sant Fournier/Jonathan Borg

The Serbian still fulfilled his remit of winning the league title in his first full season at Ħamrun. Looking back, he explained why he feels that the 4-3-3 formation suited better the Ħamrun side.

“Well, Emy (Emerson Marcelina) was never happy to play at the back. During the Conference League matches, I was forced to play him as a defender.

“He improved us with the quality he has on the ball and his intelligence on the field of play. It worked wonders immediately and we never reverted to the old formation. In the end, he was happy to play there,” Nisevic explained.

On his part, Marcelina admitted that his positional change was a huge challenge for him.

“It was the first time that I played as a defender. It was not easy to immerse myself in this new challenge. But in the Conference League, we start on the right footing and today, it was the cherry on the cake,” Marcelina admitted.

“In midfield, we had three great options, Matthew Guillaumier, Roko Prsa, and Eder. They were simply fantastic. It did not make any difference whether we play with two or three in midfield. For sure, this year, our midfield was our strongest point,” he added.

Video: Chris Sant Fournier/Jonathan Borg

On his part, Guillaumier added: “Prsa was an excellent player. We were a good pairing in the middle. It’s not given that a gifted player fits in a team.

“We have a great relationship on and off the pitch and I can say that I found a great friend.”

Attacking play

Nisevic defended his attacking line, saying that although they should have scored more goals, his forward line really worked hard with and off the ball.

“Maybe, we failed to meet expectations in attack. We dominated every game and the number of shots at goal per game was impressive.

“This was down to our gameplay and our strikers pressed hard up front, Elvis Mashike, Johnny Do Nascimiento Torres, Dodo (Jorge Ailton Soares), and even the others.

“When you sum it up, it was a great, great team effort,” the coach exclaimed.

On Saturday, the team played for Mashike and supported him in his bid to score a hat-trick so that he could finish at the top of the best scorers’ list.

Yet, Mashike felt no disappointment for missing out on the top scorer accolade.

“It is football. I scored 18 goals in my first season here in Malta. The Maltese league is a tough competition, but we achieved our goal to win the league,” he said.

Asked about Ħamrun’s chances to break into the group stages albeit under a new coach, Nisevic insisted that the current squad has got everything in place to finally break the duck and qualify for the group stages.

“Last year, we came very close. Last summer, we played against four very good teams. One of them played in the Conference League stages.

“This squad is up there with them. There is always room for improvement. With the addition of three to four players, they can make it in the group stages but as a squad, it has the quality to play at that level,” he added.

Six-time winner and Spartans captain Steve Borg added that “the club’s vision and ambition is exceptional.

“They have set the bar high but with hard work, dedication, and taking one step at a time, we can achieve that,” the Malta international defender concluded.

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