Uche to the Rescue: Villarreal 2, Sporting 1

Back from the African Cup of Nations, and how. - Bryn Lennon

Ikechukwu Uche scored in the dying moments at Estadio El Madrigal to give Villarreal 3 valuable points on its 90th anniversary. The gap to second-place Almería is now just 5 points.

A victory is worth 3 points in football, no matter how you get it. It looked as if a win would escape Villarreal, instead producing another disappointing 1-1 home draw. And perhaps Sporting Gijón had done enough in the second half to merit something from the match.

But in the 93rd minute, Bruno Soriano found Ikechukwu Uche with a through ball at the edge of the box. With his first touch, the Nigerian striker brilliantly turned his defender. A second touch took him past the line of cover, and the third was a low left-footed shot across the Sporting keeper, off the post, and in. Javi Mata, El Madrigal, and the Villarreal faithful worldwide exploded. What a way to celebrate the club's 90th anniversary.

Five takeaways from the last-gasp 2-1 victory over Sporting:

  1. Marcelino García Toral did not tinker with the lineup that won 0-2 in Córdoba. So much for tailoring the lineup to the opponent. I would say the manager's moves were a net negative on the day, taking out an imperious Javier Farinós (yet again) in 60' for sentimental favorite (but out-of-sorts) Marcos Senna. And Marcelino waited too long (until 73') to bring on Jérémy Perbet for an ineffective Jonathan Pereira.
  2. Villarreal again came out on fire, creating multiple clear-cut chances in the opening minutes. Javier Aquino is showing why he was so highly-rated at Cruz Azul, opening up spaces in the opposing defense and drawing cards from defenders hung out to dry. I am particularly impressed with his willingness to track back in defense and provide encouragement to his teammates. He looks a good fit for Villarreal.
  3. Ikechukwu Uche was the story early and often. He was in alone in 4', pushing a shot just wide of the Sporting keeper. Then he drew another 'clear-cut' penalty in 10', being hauled down in the box by his shirt. Play on, said the referee. Here we go again...until a Mateo Musacchio long ball saw Uche play over the top of his defender, control with his chest, and roof one short-side past a stunned netminder. Golazo.
  4. Senna was directly at fault for Sporting's goal, playing Gastón Sangoy onside as a makeshift right back. Villarreal was caught out on a number of occasions on the counterattack, revealing some chinks in Marcelino's strategy to get wingbacks Mario Gaspar and Jaume Costa forward. Something to work on in training.
  5. Aquino hit the bar with a thunderous strike in 76'. Perbet was denied at the near post by a nice save in 82'. The ball skittered through the goalmouth and flashed inches wide of the far post in 90'+1. Just when all looked lost, up stepped Uche. El Madrigal has a new favorite -- my boy.

On to Huesca and another chance to pick up 3 points on the road. And to continue our first winning streak since September(!).

What were your impressions of Villarreal-Sporting? Will this be a turning point in 2012-13? How would you manage the strikers going forward?


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