Birkirkara’s Matthew Guillaumier keeps Anderson, of Balzan, at a distance. Photo: Mark Zammit CordinaBirkirkara’s Matthew Guillaumier keeps Anderson, of Balzan, at a distance. Photo: Mark Zammit Cordina

The run-in to the 2016-17 BOV Premier League continues to provide fascinating scenarios.

At first, focus was mainly on a three-pronged title race involving Hibernians, Valletta and Balzan.

Last weekend, however, Birkirkara reopened the chase for a top-three finish when they produced arguably their best performance of the season and brushed aside Balzan 3-1.

The Stripes closed the gap on Balzan to just three points and four behind second-placed Valletta who saw their title hopes receiving a hammer blow following a 1-1 draw with mid-table Gżira United on Saturday.

Coach Nikola Jaros said his team had a ‘complete’ performance against Balzan, adding he never had doubts that his team could get back in the European race.

“My players were extraordinary against Balzan. They produced a complete performance. You couldn’t ask more from them,” the Croatian coach told Times of Malta.

“We never stopped believing and the players fought hard against a very good team. Our efforts were rewarded with a crucial victory that puts us back in the hunt for a top-three finish.

“Not long ago many pundits had ruled us out but I never doubted this team. There’s quality in the Birkirkara squad and we could finish high.

“There is so much talent in this team and if we play to our strengths we could beat any side in the league on our day.”

Jaros admitted that Birkir-kara’s season was somewhat of a rollercoaster of emotions with a series of ups and downs on and off the field. He feels that failure to kill off opponents could ultimately prove costly in their challenge for the top positions.

“Our run in the Europa League back in summer made people think that Birkirkara could win the league title this season.

“Unfortunately for us, the team lost form and we also struggled for consistency,” Jaros said.

“I think our biggest disappointment was in matches we could have easily won but finished empty-handed. There were several instances when after taking the lead we switched to relax mode and ended up throwing away several vital points.

“Since the start of the year we worked hard to become a more solid outfit and I think our sacrifices during training are finally starting to show. Hopefully, we can keep this momentum going in our next four matches.”

Stripes run-in

Birkirkara’s run-in will not get any easier in the next few weeks as the Stripes have three matches against teams from the top-half of the league, starting with a clash against Valletta on Saturday.

They play leaders Hibs next before taking on Floriana who came a whisker away from denying Hibernians victory on Sunday after throwing away a double lead before losing 3-2 in stoppage time.

Jaros, however, is not looking too far ahead and said Birkirkara had only one way to go about it – winning their next four matches to keep their chances alive.

Jaros said: “We only have one way to go about it. We have to win as many points as possible to reach our objective.

“The calendar looks tough but playing against the big teams also gives us the chance to make significant progress in our chase for a top-three finish.

“We have four finals coming up but we are not looking too far ahead. First is our match against Valletta. They’re a difficult team to beat but we are playing really well so we fancy our chances of beating them and give our fans something back after giving us their support throughout the season.”

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