Athletic Club achieved a very important victory against Valencia, beating them 1-0 with a beautiful…
Athletic Club achieved a very important victory against Valencia, beating them 1-0 with a beautiful back-heeled goal by Gabilondo in the 27th minute of the match. A match that not only corroborated the exceptional response that our fans give to the team, but also put an end to a bad run without a win, neither away nor at San Mamés.
Three golden points that should be worth, regardless of today’s results, for Athletic Club to face the decisive final stretch with another trend to hold on to. In the end, it was a hard-fought victory as the opposition pressed in the second half and had chances to equalise. The victory was hard-won, because anxiety puts lead in the legs and even in the throats, and achieved thanks to virtues such as fight, grit and discipline so often used against opponents who have come to San Mamés with the tag of favourites.
A slight respite, however much the visiting coach in his post-match appearance put Athletic at the feet of the media horses, as if, firstly, we are not fed up with nothing being given to us and it seems that the opposite is the case and, secondly, as if Valencia were playing for their lives and the referees were reaping it and it was not Athletic who were down with performances of a very different calibre as is the norm in any team’s season.
After a few initial minutes in which Valencia took the initiative, with Angulo’s header wide in the fifth minute the clearest option, Athletic overcame their initial nervousness and, well positioned on the pitch, with their lines very close together to prevent Valencia’s combination, especially in the centre, gradually took control of the situation based on a great physical sacrifice. Both teams started with what seemed to be a 4-4-2 formation with slight changes as the pressure on the opposition’s ball was applied.
In our team, Iraola was on the wing with Javi Martínez (who was on his fifth yellow card) more focused on the side of the “debutant” Ustaritz and in Valencia there were several changes to the starting eleven with a view to the upcoming European game on Tuesday. A line-up with quite a few players not in what could be considered their natural position, without destroying a block of undeniable collective and individual quality, just in case the doomsayers, if there are any, should be tempted to take away the value of the victory. Moreover, during the course of the match, Villa, Joaquín and Miguel had the chance to contribute their efforts against an Athletic side that kept a clean sheet at the most opportune moment.
Before that, they did their job, to score so as not to experience the anxiety and hardship of other home games. Gabilondo created the first dangerous move in the ninth minute with a shot that Butelle had to deal with, and he scored with a back-heel in the 27th minute after a good cross from Etxeberria at the near post. The player from Elgoibar had found the net again last Sunday, and yesterday he found the back of the net again with an overflow and an assist. He had a chance to finish in the 25th minute which ended up in a double corner that preceded Gabilondo’s goal, once a goal-bound effort, which was a goalkeeper’s friend to the woodwork.
Going ahead on the scoreboard was a blessing and all the more so because the team kept their shape on the pitch, even Gabilondo forced Butelle off his feet in the 31st minute, and went into the break without allowing Valencia to shoot on target and create more danger than a dangerous counter shortly before the goal which appeared to have originated from offside. In this first half a fall by Silva, who ran into the body of Prieto, would be the first of two vehemently called for by Sanchez Flores in the press room.
On the negative side, an injury to Casas on the stroke of half-time meant that the team had to be reshuffled. In his place came Garmendia, who moved Iraola to right-back and Expósito to left-back. For Valencia, the changes came after the interval. Villa came on up front alongside Silva, Angulo moved to the right, Jorge López to the left, Hugo Viana to the centre and Pallardó was sacrificed. The Chés began to press. Villa’s free kick in the 49th minute and in the 50th minute made Aranzubia work hard and for a few moments there were fears in San Mamés of a continued siege. It didn’t come and we “made do” with suffering.
Javi Martínez made Butelle work in the 52nd minute and the trainers made the coaches work without excessive delay. Mané wanted to cut, even more, the supply through the centre with the entry of Murillo for Etxeberria in the 55th minute and Joaquín was a minute later the one chosen to put more offensive pressure by replacing López. His was a cross in the 60th minute that Albiol headed high.
The new line up gave Athletic a breather, although possession of the ball was lost all too prematurely, and made things difficult for Valencia, so much so that Quique Sánchez sent Miguel in to replace Curro Torres in the 71st minute and was offered the entire right wing displacing Joaquín who was sent to cover the left, where the latter looked a little dangerous.
The suffering as a result of the importance of the points at risk lasted right until the very end, but reached perhaps its climax in the 74th minute when a deep pass by Villa seemed to hang in the air for an eternity before striking the crossbar.
At that moment the possibility of us winning was stronger than ever and neither the death ball which was finished off by Angulo in the 80th minute and then sent to corner nor Villa’s shot which caressed the goalpost in the 84th minute could change the course of the match. And our team kept on closing ranks, coming, going, stealing the ball and returning to their places, and during injury time the team even wasted a couple of counterattacks that under “normal” circumstances would have ended up being goals.
This would have been maybe too much to ask for, but it was about time the team won by doing the same thing that many other teams have done successfully at San Mamés during the season or what Valencia did last season. Furthermore, during the second half the second of the two vehement complaints made by Quique Sánchez in the press conference room came about when the goalkeeper, a defender and a forward (Silva once more) went for the ball practically at the same time.
Too much noise and nobody was happy with the refereeing, but this shouldn’t detract from the importance of this achievement: third triumph at home which has to help lay the foundations of our salvation from San Mamés where Athletic must play five of the nine matches left in the league. For a change let’s enjoy the triumph, something that unfortunately we are not used to doing of late.