Impregnable in the first round, Hibernians find themselves under mounting pressure to maintain their title challenge after four defeats in their last seven outings pushed them down to third in the standings, nine points behind leaders Birkirkara.

Given that the fourth-placed Sliema Wanderers have also hit a slump in the last two months, their second-round encounter with Hibs tomorrow at the National Stadium (kick-off 4pm) has assumed added significance as both teams pursue three points to stay in touch with the front-runners.

Hibs’ second-half collapse in their 3-2 defeat to Mosta last Saturday had coach Branko Nisevic bemoaning the lack of depth in his squad following the departures of Rodolfo Soares and Marcelo Dias.

“The last game was 50-50,” Nisevic told Times of Malta. “Our performance in the first half was very good but unfortunately something happened in the second period... we didn’t seem to have the strength, mentally and physically, to hit back.

“Maybe this is because our squad is not so big at the moment.”

Nisevic believes that a good result tomorrow is a must if Hibs are to keep the pace with Birkirkara and Valletta.

“A good result (against Sliema) would give us some much-needed confidence,” he said.

“We need to win to keep the pace with the leading teams. Our objective at this stage is to stay close to the top positions.

“We have lost two important players (Soares and Dias) and replacing them will not be easy.

“We have suffered a further setback as Andrew Cohen could be out for a month.”

Cohen is nursing a small tear in his calf while wing-back Clayton Failla is struggling with a nagging knee problem.

Hibernians are hoping to secure adequate replacements for Soares and Dias in the coming days. A French left-back and a Belgian defender are expected to begin a trial with the FA Trophy holders next week.

On Sliema, Nisevic said the Blues generally use the same tactics and personnel but suggested that the signing of Bosnian midfielder Admir Vladavic could boost their potential.

“Every time I’ve seen Sliema, they played, more or less, with the same team and the same approach,” Nisevic said.

“They have made some minor modifications in midfield after signing a new foreigner. Vladavic seems to be a good reinforcement for them.

“He knows what to do with the ball and his distribution is good.”

Sceptics have already written off Hibs’ chances of winning the title on the back of their poor run of late but Nisevic is banking on two strong signings in the coming weeks to revive their challenge.

“Everything depends on the quality of the players we will sign this month,” Nisevic said. “If they turn out to be good replacements for Soares and Dias, we could still have a say in the title race.

“Anything can happen. Last season, Birkirkara were fourth at the start of the Championship Pool but they went on to win the league.”

While Hibs’ confidence is frail after they threw away a two-goal lead in the defeat to Mosta, Sliema gained a point after holding Valletta to a goalless draw.

Coach Alfonso Greco hopes his team can build on their performance against the Citizens.

“We must approach this game with the same attention and the same concentration as the last match,” Greco said.

“We will also try to do something better in attack. I felt we created the better chances against Valletta, especially in the second half, but we need to be more clinical.”

With Sliema seven points adrift of Hibs, Greco needs no reminding that his team need to win tomorrow to edge closer to their rivals.

“This is an opportunity for us to narrow the gap on Hibs,” Greco said. “We need the points but let’s see how the game unfolds.

“Surely, a win would increase our chances of fighting for third place.”

Sliema have only won three of their last nine league games but Greco has detected signs of improvement in the draw against Valletta.

“We are doing better,” Greco said.

“Vladavic was playing his first game for us and he was clearly not at his 100 per cent. He can improve a lot.

“We are also still waiting to see the best of Abubakar Bello-Osagie who is another key player for us.”

Despite Hibs’ stuttering form, Greco is bracing himself for a tough test.

“Hibs are having some difficulties,” the Italian remarked. “They are not at the top of their game but they are still a dangerous team. It’s a difficult match and we must play a great game to stop them.”

Greco must make one change from the Valletta game as Italian defender Stefano Bianciardi is suspended.

Nigerian striker Stanley Ohawuchi was expected to report back for training with Sliema yesterday after completing his short trial with Albanian team KF Kukes.

First round: Sliema vs Hibs 2-2.

Naxxar sign Serbian duo, Mosta lose Falzon

Balzan vs Qormi (today at 2pm, Victor Tedesco Stadium).

Uplifted by their 2-1 defeat of Floriana, Balzan know that only a win would keep their slim top-six hopes alive.

Third from bottom, Qormi need the points to strengthen their fight against the drop.

Balzan coach Jesmond Zerafa must make one change from the Floriana win as Italian midfielder Fabio Vignaroli is suspended.

Brazilian goalkeeper Guilherme Lorenzi Schelski is no longer part of the Balzan squad.

Qormi coach Karel Zeman’s task has been compounded by a knee injury to Brazilian midfielder Gabriel. Nigerian forward Alfred Effiong and Jonathan Bondin are doubtful while Ghanaian striker Abbudulai Issaka has not been retained by Qormi.

An Italian striker has agreed to join Qormi but his participation in today’s game is in the balance as the club were still waiting for his international clearance yesterday.

First round: Balzan vs Qormi 2-1.

Rabat Ajax vs Tarxien Rainbows (today at 2pm, Hibs Stadium).

A relegation clash between the teams occupying the last two spots in the standings.

Without a win in their last seven games, Tarxien are acutely aware that failure to collect maximum points this afternoon would deepen their crisis.

Having been persuaded to stay after tendering his resignation, Tarxien coach Clive Mizzi was hoping to have Birkirkara striker Demba Toure in his squad for this match after agreeing to exchange him for Brazilian Ronaille but the move had not materialised until yesterday afternoon.

Ryan Sammut is still sidelined with injury while Josef Mifsud is struggling with a knee problem.

With goalkeeper Pavle Veli-mirovic and winger Aidan Azzo-pardi suspended, Rabat coach Steve D’Amato has a shortage of first-squad players, moreso after the club failed to bring in replacements for departed duo Moises Avila-Perez and Clifford Gauci.

D’Amato is keeping his fingers crossed that reserve goalkeeper Jonathan Azzopardi, Spanish winger Diego Carrillo Pendas and striker Ryan Micallef shake off the injuries that restricted their training this week.

First round: Rabat vs Tarxien 1-0.

Vittoriosa Stars vs Valletta (today at 4pm, Hibs Stadium).

A must-win game for title hopefuls Valletta who have lost further ground on leaders Birkirkara after their goalless stalemate against Sliema Wanderers.

The Citizens are expected to garner three points from their clash with Vittoriosa Stars but the latter have raised their performances lately, culminating in a 3-0 win over Tarxien.

Mark Miller, the Valletta coach, is concerned about his defensive options as Luke Dimech is out with a meniscus problem and Jason Lee Vandelannoite has a groin injury.

English forward Lateef Elford-Alliyu is still short of full fitness.

Vittoriosa coach Oliver Spiteri has no selection problems bar long-term injury victim Sheldon Grech.

Spiteri is giving a trial to an Italo-Argentine goalkeeper, Augusto Uvayon.

First round: Vittoriosa vs Valletta 1-2.

Birkirkara vs Naxxar Lions (today at 4.15pm, Victor Tedesco Stadium).

Birkirkara will make it 12 wins on the trot if they emerge victorious from their clash with Naxxar Lions.

Going by their positions in the table, Birkirkara surely have an edge over Naxxar as they are 20 points ahead but the Lions are on a four-match winning run and have already defied the odds once this season after stunning Valletta 2-1 last month.

Paul Zammit, the Birkirkara coach, is not expected to make significant changes from the 3-0 win over Qormi last weekend.

Naxxar suffered a setback last weekend after Pablo Doffo was ruled out until the end of the season. The Argentine midfielder underwent surgery after rupturing his Achilles tendon during the 3-0 victory over Rabat Ajax.

Winston Muscat’s midfield options are further depleted by the suspension of captain Victor Bellia.

Naxxar have recruited two Serbian players, winger Milan Vignjevic and midfielder Filip Stojanovic, who can make their debut today.

Vignjevic, 24, last played for Serbian club Metalac while the 25-year-old Stojanovic was on the books of FK Vozdovac.

Nigerian striker Jerry Ani has been released by Naxxar.

First round: Birkirkara vs Naxxar 1-0.

Mosta vs Floriana (tomorrow at 2pm, National Stadium).

This is probably Floriana’s last chance to stay in the hunt for a top-six berth while Mosta will edge closer to that objective if they collect the three points.

Mosta have been dealt a blow after wing-back Dyson Falzon suffered a knee injury during the 3-2 victory over Hibs.

Coach Enrico Piccioni must also make do without Slovakian midfielder Lukas Duriska, suspended, but Montenegrin striker Bojan Kaljevic returns after serving a one-match ban.

Mosta are expected to sign two Italian players in the coming days, defender Antonio Carrozza, who played for Bulgarian side PFC Shumen, and midfielder Michele Vegliato, formerly of Foggia.

Floriana will be without defender Andre Scicluna, suspended.

Coach Ian Dawes is also concerned about the fitness of Brazilian Igor Coronado (thigh strain) while Clyde Borg and Christian Caruana return from suspension.

First round: Mosta vs Floriana 1-2.

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