We've played many memorable games this season, especially of late, but this one might just take the cake. Villarreal came in knowing that only a win would do, as Girona and Almeria both won--and a win is what they got. But it wasn't easy, and our roster is going to be a little thin the next couple of weeks.
El Madrigal was not as full nor as loud as last week, but pretty full and loud nonetheless (apart from the essentially empty visitors' section). And things began quite well for Villarreal. In the seventh minute we won a corner. Two Xerez defenders went with Musacchio's run, no one picked up Bruno, and Tito Canteros's corner kick was powered home by the head of our captain. The Submarine was making some nice quick passes, recovering the ball quickly in midfield, and Aquino was using his speed to create chances for a second goal. Goalkeeper Toni intervened to smother one chance, Uche shot over twice, Perbet shot over, Cani shot wide, but it looked as though a second goal would have to come soon as Xerez was doing nothing at all to trouble us.
The only fly in the ointment was another dismal performance from the referee, José Maria Sánchez. Within the first five minutes his linesman had called Perbet offside when he was clearly on, and Sánchez rewarded any contact between players with a Xerez free kick--or so it seemed to me. And in the last ten minutes of the half, worse was to come.
In the 36th minute, Xerez had possession of the ball in our half, and José Vega battled for the ball with one of our defenders. Vega won the ball, but Tito Canteros, coming across to snuff out the danger, went in high with studs showing on the Xerez man's lower left leg. It was clearly an ill-timed, ill-advised challenge, and to be honest I probably would have given a direct red card for it too, as Señor Sánchez did. Fortunately Vega didn't have that leg planted, and his leg guard absorbed part of the blow, and he was able to continue after treatment. The El Madrigal crowd didn't like that, but I didn't feel he tried to play up the injury to get Canteros sent off.
Marcelino brought on Trigueros and took off Aquino as a response to the sending off, so we have seen the last of the Mexican international for this season. It made sense inasmuch as we needed to shore up midfield, but one might have taken off Perbet or Uche instead (I have to say, Uche was having the more successful match of the two, so I would have hauled off the Belgian). But perhaps Marcelino was thinking of Perbet's penchant for scoring headers....which he duly did just before halftime, except that it was inexplicably and unforgivably waved off.
When Trigueros took the free kick Bruno was marginally offside (and ahead of Perbet), but the ball went directly to our striker, who powered it home. If it wasn't ruled off for offside, there wasn't any physical contact that should have been called either, so what was going on? Marcelino was kicked out after protesting, the crowd went wild whistling and waving handkerchiefs, and somehow in all the ruckus a Xerez player got booked, I have no idea why.
HT Villarreal 1-0 Xerez
So now it was 10-on-11, or perhaps 10-on-12? Actually, the referee seemed to realize he'd gotten it wrong; at least, I didn't sense the level of egregiously bad calls in the second half that there were in the first. Scant praise, but hey.
Canteros's sending off had given the visitors life. Until that, it seemed only a question of how many Villarreal would score, but after, Xerez controlled play and pushed forward in search of an equalizer. Yet again, attacking down our right was route one, and in the 57th minute Bodipo could have scored but he shot over the top with only Juan Carlos to beat. Five minutes later JC palmed away Bodipo's diving header with our defense beaten, and it seemed as though surely they would break through soon, though we were valiantly trying to create the occasional chance for a second goal ourselves. Perbet had a nice pass from Uche but fired just over, and a minute later Xerez had their tying goal, with an excellent cross (by Marquitos?) and a clinical headed finish from Bodipo.
At various times Senna, Oriol and Jony Pereira had all been warming up for the Submarine, and Rubén Uria (who was running the show in the absence of Marcelino) didn't hesitate, bringing in Jony for Cani in the 67th minute. The Submarine had to win, after all, and it was time to throw caution to the wind. Xerez brought on Rueda for Vega (perhaps his injury was bothering him) and seemed content to let Villarreal control the ball for a bit. Both Uche and Perbet shot over, and with 15 minutes to go it was 1-1 and the camera cut to a shot of Sr. Roig with his hands over his face, which was how we all felt I think.
Around this time Xerez players began to waste time nursing injuries. Keeper Toni did bang his shoulder on the post defending a Mario Gaspar cross or shot (one never is quite sure with Mario), and spent a couple of minutes dealing with that, and then Raul Camara milked a slight injury for all it was worth as time ticked away. Villarreal made its third change, Gerard Moreno for Perbet, in the 78th minute. I thought this one was a bit odd--maybe we should have waited a bit longer--but to be honest it just wasn't Jéremy's day, though he at least won some fouls in this half instead of being called for largely non-existent ones.
A Mario cross into the box missed everyone and ran out of play for a throw-in to Xerez, but then we got the ball back and Uche, I believe it was, was hauled down by Rueda and a yellow card was shown to him. From the free kick, the ball went into a scrum of players and Mellberg headed it home (Jaume Costa was celebrating so much I thought he had scored it, but it was indeed the Swede who notched his second of the season). 2-1 to Villarreal!
Xerez continued to come forward, but the main danger was aerial, and one of those was cleared to begin a 2-on-2 counter. Jony beat a defender, ran into the box, and forced Toni to commit himself, sliding a perfect pass to Uche. The Nigerian sidefooted the ball neatly into the net and it was 3-1, and surely the game was over -- Villarreal fans and players celebrated as normal time wound down.
Except. It was still 11-vs-10, and from the restart Xerez produced a carbon copy of their first goal, with a perfect cross powered home by Bodipo again, who rose between Mellberg and Mussachio to score. (Bodipo is a 35-year-old Equatorial Guinean, by the way, and these were his first two goals for Xerez; maybe they should have played him more often?)
So now we had five minutes of injury time to get through, and it was Villarreal who were trying to waste some of it. I honestly don't remember a great chance for Xerez, at least their crosses were cleared, but I do remember our second-in-command furious with Mario Gaspar when he cleared the ball back to Jan Carlos--from the Xerez half of the pitch--and Bodipo nearly got there first. That would have been a nightmare. And there was a strange incidet somewhere in here where a second ball flew onto the pitch from the stands and one of the Villarreal delegates was promptly banished from the touchline. No idea what was going on there.
Manu Trigueros went down with a sore knee that require treatment so we were temporarily down to 9 men, Uche had a touch of cramp, but won an important foul with five minutes of injury time played and the crowd screaming for the referee to blow the damn whistle, or however you say that in Spanish or Valencian. He did, and we had three points.
FT Villarreal 3-2 Xerez
Of the six goals (counting Perbet's unjustly annuled one), five came from headers, and three of those were from free kicks. And Xerez's two goals were kinda like Girona's, so maybe we should figure out how to stop those....
The Canteros red card makes this a very costly game. Unless he wins an appeal (not likely) he will miss the Barca B and Almeria matches, Aquino, Moi Gomez, and Iniguez will all be on various international duty, and we haven't seen Hernán Pérez or Dorado in weeks. It will be interesting to see what Marcelino comes up with for the next match (and of course he'll probably be watching from the stands). With Bruno and Mellberg one yellow card away from missing the next match, we'd better hope they don't get a card in Barcelona!
Deep breaths everyone, two 'finals' to go. Endavant Villarreal! Sempre Endavant!