Beat Msida to stay top
Football is a game played on the pitch, but when it comes to competition like that of the BOV Challenge League, it becomes a numbers game – particularly the number of points needed to secure early survival.
For league leaders Zabbar St Patrick, survival was much less than their goal as the team led by Emilio Cornago has shown its ambition to win the title and of course promotion to the Premier League. However, they were assured of an opportunity to keep at this goal last weekend when they beat Msida St Joseph 1-0 at the Centenary Stadium and secured a top-six spot. This feat presented the added bonus of naming them the first side to achieve security this season.
Speaking to the Times of Malta, veteran defender Rodolfo Soares said despite achieving safety, it was no means a time to relax.
“Our focus is not just to be in the top six, we have a goal and we decided to live day by day,” he said, “of course it is great but it does not mean that we can relax – all the teams are getting new players and are investing for the second part so we need to keep working hard to hit our target.”
When asked if their target was in fact winning the league, Soares was quick to point out that it is what all of them at the club want.
“Everyone wants to win,” he said, “we have a great team, the club is very well organised, and I believe we can make it.”
The team newly promoted from the Amateur League last season has been in top form throughout the season, winning nine matches, drawing two, and losing just the one match against Swieqi United back in October. Standing on 29 points after 12 matches, they lead the standings with a two-point gap over Melita and five over Pieta’ Hotspurs who will be looking to return to the first tier of Maltese football after a dismal campaign last season.
Last Saturday, their fixture with Msida meant a clash between sides on opposite sides of the table as Msida, also promoted over the summer with St Patrick, have not had the same trajectory so far and currently languish in the penultimate spot on six points, one ahead of bottom club St Andrews.
With two wins and 10 defeats so far, Msida would have been a class below St Patrick on paper. However, it was just a 37th-minute goal from Brian Gambarte that made the difference.
“Last Saturday was a very difficult match,” the former Hibernians defender said.
“First of all, the weather wasn’t good, a lot of wind, rain, et cetera, and some important players were missing so it is not easy, but we managed to get the points.
“Sometimes you play well and don’t get (the points). Sometimes you just need to play enough to get them.”
This season, the Saints, under the helm of president Kevin Deguara, has invested considerably into their squad, roping in players like Matthew Grech, Matthew Ellul, James Scicluna, and Soares himself who have all joined from Premier League clubs. Together with players who have come up at the club, this mix has been so far a mix that paid dividends.
Premier League winner Soares had been playing in the top division of local football for the past 12 years, with the exception of stints away in Lebanon with Al-Ahed and Gozo with Nadur Youngsters, before swapping saints from Sta Lucia to St Patrick over the summer.
Asked about what convinced him to take the plunge into the second tier, the Brazilian credited it to club president Deguara’s project.
“We all know the reality of Maltese football, everyone wants to play in a high level but today a few clubs can give you the minimum to perform well,” he admitted.
“When I spoke with Kevin Deguara, he showed me a project I trusted, and until now he is doing everything as he promised.”
The Challenge League hosts another two rounds of fixtures before the division splits into two in February.
Zebbug R. vs Attard 1-1
Zabbar SP vs Msida SJ 1-0
Lija Ath vs Zejtun C 4-1
Pieta H. vs Luqa SA 1-0
Senglea Ath vs Fgura Utd 3-3
Marsa vs Zurrieq 1-2
St Andrews vs Tarxien R. 0-3
Melita vs Swieqi Utd 4-1
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