Game 30: Sevilla 2-2 Villarreal (Estadio Ramon Sánchez-Pizjuan, Seville – 14.4.2018)
A return to La Liga for the first time since December! The prolonged period of bad weather in Andalucía throughout late February and March limited my chances of travelling for games (there’s nothing that kills enthusiasm for football quite like sitting in an uncovered stand getting rained on, then when the rain stops, getting soaked again as the locals put their umbrellas down.)
This was not something I had to worry about on a beautifully sunny April morning as I caught the bus over to Sevilla and headed to the Sanchez-Pizjuan for the home side’s lunchtime kick off against Villarreal. Since my last visit before Christmas, Sevilla had sacked their manager who had just received the all-clear after treatment for cancer, forgotten how to defend, eliminated Man Utd from the Champions League and found themselves in danger of not qualifying for Europe at all next season.
This game, against fellow Europa League-chasers Villarreal was one which could have had huge consequences for both side’s seasons and Sevilla didn’t exactly start off well, falling behind in the first half to Dani Raba’s strike.
But the second half was where all the action came, kick-started by the introduction of Wissam Ben-Yedder as a substitute. Famously, he had scored two goals as a substitute at Old Trafford in the Champions League a month previously, this time his contribution was much less auspicious, picking up two yellow cards in quick succession, the second for sarcastically applauding the referee’s initial decision to book him.
Then a few minutes later, their defensive problems struck again as Sevilla lost the ball in midfield and allowed former Sevilla hero Carlos Bacca to race in between two defenders and double the lead. But then they were handed an unexpected lifeline as Jaume Costa handled in the area and was sent off. Nolito stepped up to take the penalty, but hit it with all the force of a backpass, straight into the grateful arms of Sergio Asenjo,
But he redeemed himself a few minutes later, meeting Lenglet’s knock-down on the volley to get Sevilla back into the game. Then out of nothing it was all square. N’Zonzi had the ball on the edge of the box and as the Villarreal defenders backed off, he tried his luck from distance and beat Asenjo. Both sides had chances to win it in a frantic finale and I went and had a curry for lunch afterwards. This was a good day!
Game 31: Recreativo 2-1 San Fernando (Estadio Nuevo Colombino, Huelva – 22.4.2018)
So back to Segunda B and another textbook relegation six-pointer. Recre were still scrapping to avoid slipping into the relegation places and San Fernando were one of their direct rivals. In a crazily tight league, where only a handful of points separated the team in 9th from the team in 16th – occupying the relegation play-off position, every point mattered.
Unsurprisingly, the first half was a pretty tense affair, with chances at a premium. But the game came to life early in the second half with a vital breakthrough for Recre. San Fernando couldn’t clear Ivan Malon’s long throw into the box and the ball eventually found its way to the feet of Jose Carlos Lazo and his shot took a massive deflection which caught out the goalkeeper and sent it into the net.
Despite having the lead, Recre were still very much on edge and it took until the 88th minute for a second goal to settle the home side’s nerves. Substitute Iván Agudo was tripped as he headed towards goal and Boris made no mistake from the penalty spot to put the result beyond doubt.
Or so it seemed. Seven minutes of stoppage time were signalled, due to Recre ‘keeper Marc Martinez requiring treatment earlier in the half. Deep into the added time, San Fernando were awarded a rather soft penalty which they converted. The remaining couple of minutes felt like an eternity as the visitors threw everything they had into the search for an equaliser, but Recre held firm and recorded a huge victory.