Most neutrals figured Almeria to go through the playoffs, and figured their toughest test might be Las Palmas in the semifinal round. And so it proved, as Almeria swept away Girona today 3-0 to win the playoff final round 4-0 on aggregate.
Girona were always going to have a tough ask, and it became much more difficult 17 minutes in when Aleix Vidal scored. Girona 'keeper Isaac Becerra left far too much room at his near post, and Vidal made him pay for that error with a nicely-slotted ball into the net.
But the fundamental problem for Girona on this day was lack of pace. Villarreal scored against Almeria as a result of an incisive pass to a quick forward player. Girona had neither. Their buildup was slow, they lacked width and pace, and their target man, Acuña, was clearly not fully fit. They hardly troubled Esteban in the Almeria net during the first half, while the home side had a couple of decent appeals for penalties turned down and always looked the more dangerous--Iago Falqué, Aleix Vidal and Charles looked a cut above their Girona counterparts.
Eight minutes into the second half Almeria ended the game for all practical purposes, and it was Iago Falqué who deserved much of the credit. Attacking down the Girona right, he controlled the pass and deftly turned the ball past Luso, taking him out of the play--then squared the ball to the onrushing Charles for a fine goalscorer's finish, the Girona center back beaten for pace.
That was really it, and when Charles added another in the 71st minute, the party was really on. This was one of the crazier goals you'll see, because it came from a Girona corner. Unfortunately for the visitors, it was easily cleared by Pellerano, and there was no one back for Girona. Charles received the ball easily three strides or so in his half of the field, as much again in front of the nearest Girona player, and headed forward toward goal. He took his time (no one from Girona really bothering to chase much), rounded Becerra, and at a modest pace, at best, took the ball into the goalmouth and tapped it home.
Apart from a half-volley off a rebound that went over Esteban, Girona really offered nothing to suggest that they could score, much less that they might, as the Almeria defense easily dealt with Girona's attempts to find space to shoot on the edge of the box or feed a ball through to Acuña.
Hard to argue that this result was anything except the right one. Almeria clearly had some players of Primera quality, I didn't see any from Girona. Counting their playoff matches, Girona went 3-3-5 over the last two months of the season; Almeria were 8-1-2 over the same stretch. Girona's coach Rubi did a fine job with a club that barely avoided relegation last year, and lost their leading scorer, Ferran Corominas, to Elche. But in the end, the limitations of his squad were painfully evident.
As for ex-Villarreal B coach Javi Gracia, he makes a triumphal return to Spain after a couple of stops in Greece, neither of which turned out very well. This promotion may owe more to the breakout season of Charles (30 goals) and the determination of Almeria veterans like Soriano and Corona, perhaps, than to any great coaching job, but he had a talented (and expensive) roster in Segunda terms and didn't screw it up. That counts for something.
Congratulations to Almeria!!