The return leg of the Elche-Villarreal matchup in the Copa del Rey turned out to be a feisty affair, nervy but largely devoid of beautiful, flowing football. And as so often in these sorts of matches, one moment of brilliance decided it.
In El Madrigal Villarreal dominated play but defensive errors led to two Elche goals. It took an injury-time goal from Javier Aquino to level the score, and give us an opportunity to progress with a 1-0 or 2-1 win. This match was tight, offered few real scoring chances to either side, but Jérémy Perbet's golazo from the top of the box proved to be all Villarreal needed.
Marcelino clearly hoped to get Perbet going, starting him up front with Jony. There was opportunity too for Moi Gomez, Pantic again, and Jokic--as well as Gabriel Paulista, left out of the Barcelona match. Mateo Musacchio had a day off, so too did Mario Gaspar. Bruno returned in central midfield, with Tomas Pina as the more defensive player in the doble pivote.
Elche, meanwhile, left some of their big guns on the bench (Carles Gil, Herrera, Coro). Both coaches seemed to be playing a crafty waiting game with their starting XI. Marcelino left out Gio, Manu, and Uche, figuring he could introduce them in the second half if we needed a goal but not wanting to give them 90 minutes after the Barca match; Fran Escriba was clearly hoping he could save some of his more creative players as well and only bring them if we scored and a goal was needed.
First half: Rather than do a blow-by-blow, I'll go with impressions. Elche were clearly willing to play defensively, put men behind the ball, but hope to break up our passing and hit us with a quick break. Villarreal dominated the first half, but without creating any real danger. Jony was fast (as we know) but that speed was neutralized first by the linesman, who flagged him offside twice when he wasn't, and by the failure of anyone else to support him when he did make runs with the ball. Perbet seemed tentative--his first touch wasn't good, and his body language was that of a player who didn't really expect to do anything.
Most of our attacks came through Moi Gomez--I have no idea where Aquino was for the first 15-20 minutes of the game. Bruno and Pina were comfortable, and Bruno made one incisive diagonal pass that led to an excellent opportunity, but as one of our commentors said, it seemed as though too often we were expecting to score somehow, rather than really work for it. Our defense, especially Gabriel, showed more fight and commitment than our front line, it seemed to me. Elche hardly seemed as thought they wanted to score, much less created chances to do so. Ahead on style points, then, at the break, but precious few scoring opportunities, and no goals.
HT Elche 0-0 Villarreal
Second half: This began poorly for both sides, and within five minutes of the restart Villarreal had Uche, Gio and Manu all warming up. We'll never know what changes Marcelino was planning, though, because out of the blue, while we are all commenting on how lost Perbet looked and no one was even trying to cross the ball to him, he produced a moment of magic...
A ball was pushed forward to him, he made room for his shot and hit a low screamer across Toño and off the inside of the far post. 12 minutes into the second half, Villarreal had the goal they needed, and it was Elche who made the first sub, Carles Gil coming on.
The 10-15 minutes after the goal were awfully scrappy, to be sure. Elche won a few dangerous free kicks and got a couple of corners, but my main memory of them was Botia pushing Pantic, then falling down himself in attempts to win a penalty, or maybe an Oscar at least. The referee ignored all this, and we nearly went 2-0 up from a break started, I have to say, from a probably handball outside our area from Pina. Jony and Moi had a 2-on-1 break, but Jony took the shot himself and Toño saved it. This was practically the last action for Moi; he went out and Jaume Costa came on (and within a minute had picked up a yellow card).
There was a very hectic, helter-skelter period of play, which ended when Marcelino brought on Gio for Jony. Juan Carlos created one chance himself with a poor clearance, but saved others. Gabriel in particular was assured and confident in defense, and Elche, for all that they won freekicks in dangerous positions, didn't do much.
In the last 15-20 minutes Villarreal did what they failed to do against Malaga--they controlled the ball, created a half-chance or two themselves, but wasted a lot of time with clever play along the byline. And since there were five minutes of extra time, that was a good strategy. The Elche fans watching were sitting on their hands and apart from one free-kick with about 10 minutes to go that Juan Carlos saved, I don't recall any real pressure.
Final Elche 0-1 Villarreal
Afterwards Marcelino said he thought the result was appropriate, Fran Escriba said Elche should have won, and got no help from the referee. H'm.
For the first time since the 2010-11 season, we progress to the round of 16. Endavant!!!!