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Season review: Malta

Published: Wednesday 4 June 2014, 9.29CET
Valletta FC clinched their first double since 2001, the title triumph a result of a 16-game unbeaten run since January that culiminated in a final-day win against rivals Birkirkara FC.
by Domenic Aquilina
from Valletta
Season review: Malta
Valletta captain Ryan Fenech enjoyed a 'memorable year' ©Domenic Aquilina
Published: Wednesday 4 June 2014, 9.29CET

Season review: Malta

Valletta FC clinched their first double since 2001, the title triumph a result of a 16-game unbeaten run since January that culiminated in a final-day win against rivals Birkirkara FC.

Like last season, the Maltese Premier League championship race went to the wire. Before a record attendance of over 10,000 at Ta' Qali National Stadium, Valletta FC, going into the final day in second place, defeated title holders and pacesetters Birkirkara FC 2-0 to land their 22nd top-flight crown. Five days later the capital club doubled up for the first time since 2000/01, beating Sliema Wanderers FC 1-0 in the Maltese Cup final in front of another bumper crowd.

Champions: Valletta FC
Valletta, having trailed Birkirkara for most of the campaign, timed their run perfectly. A 2-1 loss to Naxxar Lions FC on 21 December proved their last of the season as Andre Paus's side won 12 of their 16 remaining fixtures, finishing one point ahead of their challengers. With 16 clean sheets in 32 games and just 25 goals conceded, Valletta comfortably had the meanest defence on the island.

Cup final: Valletta FC 1-0 Sliema Wanderers FC
Lateef Elford-Alliyu's early goal decided a close contest in which Sliema's Paltemio Barbetti was denied by the woodwork after 12 minutes, with Matias Muchardi missing the target on the rebound. And though Valletta's hopes of lifting the trophy for a 13th time were dealt a blow when Hamza Barry was sent off with 20 minutes left, they stood firm to ensure another night of celebration. "My team played exceptionally well against Birkirkara, but today my players could not really concentrate fully on this final after the championship triumph," said Paus.

European places*
Valletta FC – UEFA Champions League, second qualifying round
Birkirkara FC – UEFA Europa League, first qualifying round
Sliema Wanderers FC – UEFA Europa League, first qualifying round
Hibernians FC – UEFA Europa League, first qualifying round
*Subject to final confirmation from UEFA

Player of the year: Ryan Fenech (Valletta FC)
The captain's stylish midfield displays and leadership were influential in Valletta reclaiming the title. At the end of the aforementioned Birkirkara match, the 28-year-old, scorer of five league goals this term, could not hold back the tears. The 36-cap Maltese international has come a long way since joining the club in January 2011 from Hamrun Spartans FC. "I am thrilled and honoured," Fenech told after receiving the player of the season prize. "My award makes it a complete season for Valletta. This is Valletta's award too, not just mine."

One to Watch: Stanley Ohawuchi (Sliema Wanderers FC)
The 24-year-old's deadly finishing made him one of the most lethal strikers around. However, it remains to be seen if the Nigerian, on target 21 times in the top flight, will be a Sliema player in 2014/15 as his contract expires later this month.

Surprise Package: Mosta FC
For the second year running Mosta made it to the Championship pool – in which, after 22 matchdays of the regular campaign, the top six play each other twice – repeating their fourth-place finish of 2012/13. At one point a UEFA Europa League berth was in their sights. "No one expected us to be among the top four till the end of the season," said goalkeeper Omar Borg.

Leading scorer: Edison Luis dos Santos, Hibernians FC; Stanley Ohawuchi, Sliema Wanderers FC; Johnnattann Benites da Concecao, Birkirkara FC (21)

Relegated: Vittoriosa Stars FC, Rabat Ajax FC

Promoted: Pietà Hotspurs FC, Zebbug Rangers FC

Number: 16
Valletta's 16-game unbeaten streak from 4 January onwards ultimately earned them the title. Paus's men won their last five matches.

"It has been such a memorable year for me in particular – getting married, having a child, the family, Valletta FC and now the double. I could not ask for more."
Valletta skipper Fenech reflects on a special 12 months.

Last updated: 28/06/14 11.37CET

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