Partizani on track to make decades-long comeback as Superliga champions as they take lead
TIRANA, April 10 – Partizani have taken the Superliga lead for the first time this season after beating newly promoted Luftetari, the Superliga surprise team this season, and rivals Kukesi were held to a goalless draw ending their four-month lead of Albania’s top league.
Italy-born Ghanaian striker Caleb Ekuban proved decisive again for Partizani as he was fouled in the box and Partizani midfielder easily converted from the penalty spot to give the Reds an early lead. With Luftetari down to 10 men, Ekuban doubled just before the first-half whistle to score his 12 seasonal goal, trailing top scorer Croatian Kukes striker Pero Pejic by four goals.
With eight other games to go, Partizani now lead the Superliga with 58 points, two ahead of Kukes and eight points more than reigning champions Skenderbeu who have one game in hand.
With not much history in Albania’s top league, north-eastern Albania-based Kukes, who have been playing in the Superliga only during the past five years have made an impressive performance since 2012 finishing second four times and being the only key rival to Skenderbeu who have dominated Albanian football in the past six years.
Partizani coach Sulejman Starova says the eight remaining Superliga games will all be like finals for the Reds who are looking for a comeback as Superliga champions after more than two decades.
“We are happy with the victories, we had nine finals remaining and now there are eight others ahead. We were pleased with the three points against an opponent who has truly been the season’s surprise, a tough team with quality players,” Starova said after the home game with Luftetari who despite losing to favourites Partizani comfortably see themselves rank in the top five of the 10-team Albanian Superliga.
The Reds will travel to Shkodra-based Vllaznia on April 15 in another key title fixture. One of the best Superliga sides, Vllaznia held Kukes to a goalless draw last weekend to climb to fourth, overtaking Luftetari on goal difference.
Once the most successful club under communism, Partizani have been trophilesss in the Albanian top league since the early 1990s, but are favourites to win this year’s title after finishing second last season.
The Reds made a historic comeback to European club football last summer replacing Skenderbeu in the Champions League qualifying campaign after the Albanian champions were banned from European competition for 1 year over match fixing allegations.
Sixth straight Superliga champions Skenderbeu will travel to Vlore, southern Albania, tonight (April 10) in a key fixture for both teams. With one game in hand, Skenderbeu will be looking to keep up pace with leaders Partizani, whom they trail by eight points. Meanwhile, Flamurtari, who have been playing one of their worst seasons, will be looking for a victory to escape the relegation zone as they currently rank second from bottom.