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Sta Lucia win a shot in the arm for Naxxar Lions, says coach Vella

Naxxar Lions brushed aside Santa Lucia 4-0 on Sunday. Photo: Domenic Aquilina

Naxxar Lions coach George Vella believes that his team’s emphatic win over fellow relegation strugglers Santa Lucia was a great injection of confidence for his players as the newly promoted side secured their first victory on their return to the top flight.

On Sunday, the Lions were at their clinical best as they punished an erratic defensive performance from Santa Lucia. Goals from Pablo Garcia, Edson Farias, and Joao Vitor handed them an emphatic victory that lifted the team outside of the relegation zone on the four-point mark level with Gżira United.

At the start of the season, Naxxar Lions were seen as one of the major candidates for a swift return to the Challenge League, particularly after the Northerners operated on a more moderate transfer budget than their other top-flight rivals, as well as banking on their club’s youth talent.

However, their recent performances against Santa Lucia and Gżira United a few days earlier, where they battled to a 1-1 draw, is a clear sign that the Lions have the tools to mount a serious challenge to avoid the drop.

“Having four teams relegated in this season’s Premier League, every match takes added significance and a win over a direct rival is very important,” Vella told the Times of Malta.

“However, Sunday’s win changes very little in the sense that we are still the underdogs in the fight for survival but what matters to me is that we continue to do our best and then we see how it goes.

“It’s important to point out that a number of overseas players arrived at the club very late in the pre-season and that inevitably left us needing more time to gel together as a unit.

“The results attained during the last week give us a lot of confidence as we picked up four points against teams in the lower half of the standings. But this does not mean that we have attained something and we still have a lot of work to do.”

Despite their promotion to the Premier League, Naxxar Lions continued to keep faith in their philosophy of investing in youth talent and Vella said that one of the great benefits from this experience in the top flight will surely be a great learning curve for these youngsters.

“Here at Naxxar Lions there is a good crop of young players that have come through the club’s nursery that we are keen to give them the opportunity to play in the top-flight,” Vella said.

“A key attribute for a player to play in the Premier League is the intensity and that is one area we are trying to help these youngsters to grow as players. Besides that, we have managed to add two Malta U-21 internationals to our squad, Nikolai Micallef and Matthias Debono, who arrived on loan from Ħamrun Spartans while I have also given an opportunity to Giuseppe Bonanno.

“For me, age is not an issue when selecting my players. If I see the potential in a player I am ready to give him a chance to shine as playing in the Premier League is a great learning curve for these players.”

The Naxxar Lions coach is aware that the challenges in this season’s Premier League are far tougher than the previous years given that four teams will lose their top-flight spot and said that a team needs at least 26 points to survive.

“We are aware that if you compare our squad with the other teams, our roster is more modest,” Vella said.

“But I have great faith in this group of players and I sincerely believe that we have a good forward line that is capable of creating a lot of problems to many teams in the division.

“Looking at the Premier League there are going to be eight teams fighting for a European place while the other six will battle to avoid the drop.

“Last season, Santa Lucia needed 15 points to survive but this year you need at least 26 to 30 points to survive. It’s going to be a tough challenge for us but we are approaching matches with the mentality of either we win points or if we lose we can learn from those matches.

“As I said after this win we haven’t attained anything yet and we need to roll up our sleeves and continue to work hard. The most important thing for me is that we remain united and battle for every point.”

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