Spartans boost as Hibs protest not upheld
Ħamrun Spartans and Floriana will resume their title battle this weekend when the Malta champions face surprise-package Naxxar Lions while Floriana have a trickier test against Birkirkara.
The Spartans received a major boost ahead of this weekend’s round of matches as on Thursday they appeared in front of the MFA Protest Board following a complaint made by Hibernians on the eligibility of Spanish defender Christian Rutjens in their 2-1 win earlier this month.
The Paolites contended that Rutjens was not eligible to play in the match as he had to serve a three-match ban picked up during his time at former club Floriana two years ago.
However, the Malta FA Protest Board has rejected Hibernians’ claims and ruled that the result was to stand, leaving Ħamrun Spartans with a three-point lead over Floriana ahead of this weekend’s fixtures.
Floriana will now be looking to try and cancel that gap this afternoon when they face a tricky test against Birkirkara at the National Stadium on Saturday and pile up the pressure over the Spartans who are in action the following day.
After a poor start to 2024, Floriana were back to winning ways last weekend when they eased past relegation strugglers Santa Lucia to stay in the hunt of the Spartans.
However, they are likely to face a much stronger challenge this afternoon against a Birkirkara team who have struggled with consistency in recent weeks.
Greens coach Camoranesi is boosted by the availability of Ivory Coast defender Guy Serge Yameogo and Greek forward Christos Rovas who joined the club on the insistence of the Italian after having worked with both the new signings a few years back.
The acquisition of Rovas is seen as a valuable addition as the Greens have been keen to add a prolific goalscorer to their squad.
On the other hand, Birkirkara have little margin of error after picking up just one point from their last two matches and need to take maximum points to stay in the hunt for a top-four finish.
At the moment, the Stripes are engaged in a four-way scrap for fourth place with just one point separating fourth-placed Marsaxlokk and Birkirkara, Naxxar and Hibernians.
On the other hand, Ħamrun Spartans will start as favourites to preserve their winning run when they take on Naxxar Lions at the Tony Bezzina Stadium on Sunday.
The Spartans come into the match on the back of an impressive 7-1 win over Balzan which saw their forwards Luke Montebello (4) and Uros Duranovic (2) netting six of the goals in an impressive display by the Malta champions.
No doubt, coach Luciano Zauri will be expecting his team to keep up their concentration levels against a Naxxar team who have shown time and again this season that are capable of upsetting any team in the top flight.
Sliema Wanderers will be keen to try and keep up the pressure on the top two teams in the division when they face an improved Valletta FC side.
The Blues will be keen on returning to winning ways against a Valletta side who in recent weeks rediscovered their winning touch following victories over Gudja United and Sirens that have given them some breathing space from the relegation zone.
However, the clash against Sliema is set to be a much more real test to see if City’s struggles are really a thing of the past.
In the battle for relegation, all teams fighting to avoid the drop face tough fixtures this weekend.
The clash between Sirens and Mosta is a direct clash between relegation rivals and the St Paul’s Bay team need to win at all costs if they are not to see their hopes of salvation continue to fade.
On their part, Mosta will be desperate to secure the win in a relegation six-pointer that would boost their hopes of avoiding to finish in the bottom spot.
Gudja United face a very tough clash against European football-chasers Marsaxlokk while Santa Lucia will be looking to upset neighbours Hibernians as they chase a third win in four matches.
The final clash of the weekend may turn out to be a fascinating match as Balzan, fresh from their drubbing against Ħamrun, will be looking to put themselves back on track when they face Gżira United who are in desperate need of points to avoid the drop.
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