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Birkirkara seek strong response under interim coach Chetcuti

Birkirkara’s Neil Micallef (right) launches an attack against Naxxar. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

Birkirkara interim coach Brian Chetcuti is expecting a strong response from the players as the troubled Premier League side take on champions Ħamrun Spartans in this weekend’s opening match on Saturday (kick-off: 2pm).

It has been a difficult seven days for the Stripes who last week saw their coach Giovanni Tedesco step down from his post after his team suffered a stunning 2-0 defeat at the hands of Naxxar Lions that left the team in the lower part of the standings, just outside the relegation zone and ten points adrift of joint-leaders Ħamrun Spartans and Floriana.

On Monday, club president Michael Valenzia made it clear that he was unhappy with the performance of his players and warned them that in their next three matches, they will be fighting for their future at the club.

Contacted by the Times of Malta, Chetcuti urged his players to produce a strong reaction against the Malta champions.

“I am awaiting a strong reaction from the players following all that happened in the last week,” Chetcuti said.

“We need to put the problems behind us and look at the match against Ħamrun Spartans as if it were the start of a new season. There are still a lot of matches to play and the players are fully motivated and ready to perform at their best on Saturday.

“This week we had an internal meeting with the players and some of them expressed their frustrations about the recent performances as they felt that not everyone in the squad was giving his 100 per cent.

“But everything has been settled now and we are ready to give the best possible response to all those who criticised them.”

Asked what he felt was the main reason behind the team’s poor start to the season, Chetcuti said that complacency had crept into their game and they were made to pay for such an attitude.

“Last season we finished second in the league and ended the campaign winning the FA Trophy,” Chetcuti said.

“At that point, some players thought that they were the best team in Malta and didn’t approach the start of a new season with the right attitude. Last year, the team played with great hunger and commitment but that all faded away this year.

“Added to that, we faced many teams who had a score to settle with us, such as Mosta, who we eliminated in the FA Trophy semi-final, Floriana, who we beat twice last year, and Marsaxlokk, who we defeated in the final. They took the pitch with great hunger and ended up beating us.

“I have told the players that unless they are humble and work for each other we are heading nowhere. Teamwork is key for us to move forward and hopefully, we can show the real strength of our team against Ħamrun.”

Chetcuti revealed that the Stripes could have a key player back in the fray as defender Alessandro Coppola is back to full training and could be included in the squad.

Birkirkara’s task will be anything but easy as they face a Ħamrun Spartans side who enjoyed a strong start to the season and are keen to move three points clear of fellow leaders Floriana who face neighbouring rivals Valletta tomorrow.

Important week for Spartans

Ħamrun Spartans coach Luciano Zauri is not looking much at Birkirkara’s troubles and has warned his players to be fully focused or they risk suffering a nasty surprise.

“Birkirkara remain one of the best teams on the island,” Zauri said.

“After Giovanni Tedesco’s departure, they decided to promote the assistant coach in charge of the team, so he surely knows the players well. I am sure he will inject more enthusiasm into the squad as they look to get back to winning ways as quickly as possible.

“It will be fundamental for us to approach the match by showing great respect to our opponent but, at the same time, be aware of our strength and ability to take home the three points. I want to see the players adopt an approach of a great team who wants to produce a great performance.”

The Spartans come into the match on the back of a 1-0 win over Marsaxlokk, which saw the team dominate the match for long spells, but their failure to convert their scoring chances almost cost them the three points. Zauri said that his team cannot afford such profligacy against Birkirkara.

“If you don’t kill off opponents, many times you end up suffering as all teams in this division are capable of causing us problems. One set-piece and you can easily concede a goal that throws away all the good things we did during a match,” Zauri said.

“This is an important week for our club and we want to start it in the best possible way with victory over Birkirkara so that only then we can put our focus on the Super Cup final against the same opponents the following week.

“We need to be focused and organised in our play and if we do that a positive result will be a logical consequence.”

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