What should have been a comfortable home win against a relegation-threatened side turned out to be a real nail-biter, but Villarreal came away with an important three points at El Madrigal. Given the long injury list and the windy conditions, Villarreal supporters might not have expected a stellar performance, but I have to say this was an incredibly sloppy match.
Racing Santander has tightened things up under their fourth (!) coach of the season, but still don't offer much in attack, and that was our salvation today. To be fair, Villarreal started well, and had three chances to score within the first ten minutes, but all of them involved Uche, and on this day he was not at his best. He shot wide, then (with Gerard Moreno in excellent position to head the ball on goal) got in the way of a cross and headed it across the pitch, and finally failed to control another good cross.
As for Moreno, his problem was the linesman, who called him offside four times in the first half, and the last two were clearly wrong. What should have been a perfectly good goal was disallowed shortly before halftime, this following a bizarre sequence in which the Racing keeper caught the ball outside the area and didn't receive a card of any color, Bruno's free kick bounced off the wall, and someone (I did not see whom) made a perfect pass to Gerard, who was being played onside by a Racing defender who was at least two yards ahead of him when the ball was played. Ridiculous.
Oh, and earlier Uche was taken down in the box by ex-Villarreal man Marcos Gullón. No call, no penalty, nothing. The ref was right there. Needless to say, there were a lot of handkerchiefs being waved around the stadium as the first half ended.
HT Villarreal 0-0 Racing
The second half had barely started when the Yellow Submarine took the lead, and to be fair Uche deserves some credit here. He held the ball up in the box, then as he was going down (for of course he always does) he toe-poked the ball to Moi Gomez. The youngster controlled the ball nicely and put a low shot across the keeper inside the post, and it was 1-0.
At this point Villarreal should have scored a second goal and put this away, because Racing was clearly not going to score two goals on this day. (Kone did score one, but the linesman had his flag raised, correctly this time). But to be honest we just didn't look sharp, or on the same page a lot of the time. Uche and Gerard didn't link up well together, Cani worked hard and made some good plays and passes, but also some poor ones, and we just seemed unable to create anything of substance.
For me the biggest problem was our lack of pace on the wing, and Uche's lack of confidence whenever the ball came his way. Too often an attack would break down when the Nigerian failed to control a pass, or made a bad pass, and without an Aquino or Hernan to get round the side of the Racing back line, we seldom created anything of substance. Uche did have one moment of quality when after dithering on the edge of the box he chipped the ball to Gerard, but a Racing defender was able to intervene.
Cani was substituted first (and didn't seem happy about it), last week's hero Manu Trigueros coming on for him. The second like-for-like substitution saw Marcos Senna come on for Canteros, who had a good game, but for some reason Perbet remained on the bench while Uche continued to struggle.
Down a goal, Racing clearly had to go for it, and Quini and Gai Assulin came on as they attempted to create something. Basically their attack consisted of trying to counter down our right and then win a corner, and those were dealt with pretty easily by our defense. Finally Perbet came in, but for Gerard, who was cramping up. This took place with seven minutes to go and at this point the crowd was willing the team over the line--lots of cheers of "Villarreal" and waving of flags as the match waned.
Unfortunately, with only a one-goal lead, any mistake could be punished. In the 85th minute what should have been an easy clearance ended up with Moi losing possession just outside our box and committing a foul to boot. Fortunately the free kick was blocked by Senna, but that was a big letoff.
For some reason the referee signaled four minutes of injury time, and Villarreal looked to be dealing with everything fairly comfortably. My heart was in my mouth every time a Racing and Villarreal player came together, though, because this referee was clearly calling 50-50 challenges only one way. In the last minute of injury time Racing had their chance--from a throw-in down our right the ball was lumped into the area and it fell between Gullon and Gai, the latter pulled the trigger, and--shot narrowly wide. Whew.
Juan Carlos might have been able to make a save had the shot been on target, but I am glad we didn't have to find out. There was just enough time to take the goal kick, to win a throw-in, and that was it.
FT Villarreal 1-0 Racing
What a difference a year makes. Last April Villarreal played Racing in El Madrigal, took a lead in the 46th minute, just as today, but then gave up a heartbreaking equalizer in the last minute of injury time. To this day I still remember Gonzalo Castellani losing control of the ball when all he had to do was lump it forward....
Positives: We won. And as far as I know, no one got hurt.
Negatives: Most everything else. It's hard to tell if we are regressing toward the Velazquez style of ball possession but no danger--I hope not. I was concerned coming in with Cani and Moi on the wings, because Cani tends to pinch in and Moi is not that fast. It felt as though we lacked the personnel to play a vertical game, and we ended up with too much horizontal passing (much of it sloppy) as a result.
It's worth remembering that Marcelino brought in players in January to help us out and play his style, and of those, Farinos is now out for the season, Chechu Dorado is out for a month, Aquino has been out the last game and a half, and Jony Pereira has missed two weeks now. Perbet is the only January signing who has been getting a lot of playing time who is healthy, and I felt Marcelino waited too long to use him today.
And lest we forget, we have now gone 13(!) matches without defeat--8 wins, 5 draws.
Next week a match at Lugo, a team who has nothing to play for but took a point from us at El Madrigal. Hopefully we will have Jony and Aquino back, and Perbet will be given the start with Gerard!
ENDAVANT VILLARREAL! SEMPRE ENDAVANT!