Hamrun Spartans will be all out to claim a historic third qualifying round spot in the UEFA Europa Conference League as they host FK Velez Mostar in the second leg of the second qualifying round at the Centenary Stadium on Thursday, kick-off at 20:00.
A goal by Matthew Guillaumier handed the Spartans a narrow lead in the first leg and maintaining this lead should be the main objective for Branko Nisevic’s side as they aim at setting up a third qualifying round clash with the winner of the tie between Levski Sofia and PAOK with the Bulgarians winning the first leg at home 2-0.
The Spartans’ narrow lead probably means that Velez will go all out to score in order to level matters and turn the score in their favour.
Addressing the media on Wednesday, Branko Nisevic said that even in the first leg, Velez attacked right from the start and Hamrun managed to control them but still focussed on this aspect during training.
“Even in Bosnia, they attacked from the beginning but we found a way how to control them. This week, we dedicated two days working on this … against the high press. I think we are prepared for it … we are prepared if the things go well, we are also prepared if the things do not go well we also know what to do like we did against Alashkert.”
Playing in front of their supporters might bring a bit of pressure, apart from the fact that the positive results may bring a bit of over-confidence but Nisevic is confident his players will remain focussed.
“After the game against Alashkert. that was the problem. Coming from a very good game and a very good performance, entering the first game against Velez thinking that we are a very good team … that we are better than them …. that was the problem. We spoke about it and made it clear that we played a good game but we did not win anything, we did not achieve nothing extraordinary so far and in the game against Velez, we started with our feet on the ground … focussed on our strategy of the game and in the first minute we had a shot on target. The boys are quite mature and mentally aware of their abilities. They are aware that we are not playing in a local competition and therefore every opponent is hard for us. I think that the approach in this game should be the same.”
“The team is made up of players with different types of experience. Players like Henry (Bonello) with so many games with the national team and clubs like Sliema, Hibs and Valletta in international competitions. We have players who are experienced in these things and know how to approach such games. I think that the approach in the last game was fantastic but I will stress that nothing has been achieved and therefore need to maintain the same attitude. Mental preparation is very important. We played in front of a full stadium last time over here and we played in front of a full stadium last week where ambience was really noisy but we rose up to the challenge. I believe that these players can handle this type of pressure.”
“We are ‘works in progress’ … we changed a lot of players and I am happy that things are happening fast. Some of the new players are settling well quickly. We are soon getting to our game identity. I hope we continue this way and further improve.”
Nisevic added that the team has its own style of play and therefore no matter against whom they play, they will insist on this.
“To change style of play is difficult because what we practice in our training sessions is always based on possession. We insist on these principles. No matter against whom we will play, we will insist on this. So tomorrow, we will play against a team which is better, who has players better than us, faster or stronger but if we are good at keeping the ball, we will always give them a good game. Controlling the ball in our principle.”
Referring to supporters, Nisevic said “It is good to see good results but for me as a coach, what I like more is to see the team performing well because I know that a good performance, good play and sacrifice on the pitch will make the people around us more happy. We are lucky that we have this kind of support from our supporters and the president and I think that our number one target is to make these people happy and we want to assure them that we will do our best to make these games memorable for them.”
Goalkeeper Henry Bonello said that although there are a lot of new faces in squad this year, the team is gelling well.
“Despite the new faces, the team is gelling well. The fact that the players have a positive attitude is making it easier to get the desired results in these first three matches.”
The Malta international goalkeeper added that for the coming Premier League campaign, the Spartans will be among the teams challenging for honours.