All week Cani, Bruno, and everyone told us we would be ready for the pressure of yet another 'must-win' game. After all, we have had so many this season. We knew it would be hard, especially since we had players on international duty and several injuries.
We expected Almerîa's starting lineup. We didn't expect ours--Manu Trigueros evidently wasn't able to go 90 minutes, and it was Juanma, of all people, who started alongside Canteros, Bruno and Cani in midfield, with Jony Pereira and Jeremy Perbet up front.
It was evident from the start that Villarreal were going to be struggling to impose themselves in midfield. Juanma was rusty, and Tito Canteros seemed subdued for some reason. From the beginning, it was clear Almeria had decided to be physical. I often think Spanish referees pull their yellow cards out far too easily, but I guess Señor Vicandi Garrido needed to find his, and he had trouble doing so. How Charles avoided an early yellow I have no idea, as he took Jony down with a hard, late tackle within 10 minutes.
Almeria had most of the ball control, but Mario Gaspar and Musacchio, especially, kept things under control. Iago Falqué didn't do much, though danger man Aleix Vidal always looked a large threat when he had the ball. Soriano had an early chance for Almeria but didn't do anything with it, and Jony had a good chance but hit it at the keeper.
The best chance of the game, as it turned out, for the visitors came in the 20th minute. Vidal cut inside and Juan Carlos scrambled over to stop the shot, and it went off the post and bounced invitingly along the goal line. Fortunately, Mellberg was able to scramble it away before Charles could get there.
After that, Villarreal came into the match a bit more, and had a good chance from Musacchio off a corner kick, but Almeria keeper Esteban was equal to it. In the 35th minute, controversy as Canteros got into the box, dummied the Almeria defender, and went down. It appeared to Javi Mata on Radio Vila-real, at least, a clear penalty, but instead, the referee gave Canteros a yellow for diving. It was hard to tell how much contact, if any, there had been, and whatever contact the defender's foot made with Canteros's boot could have been played through, for sure, so maybe there was some correctness to the decision. Though again, most Spanish referees would have called it, and certainly wouldn't have awarded a yellow for diving.
Shortly after Jeremy Perbet had a great chance to score, but dallied too long on the ball and it was scrambled to safety, when a pass to Jony was the correct play. And when next we had an opportunity to break forward, Cani decided to try a shot from his half of the pitch. As Sid pointed out, it worked once! As the half wore down Almeria led in fouls (something like 14 to 3), should have had half their team on yellows, but while Villarreal fans had their hearts in their mouths every time they came forward, they didn't actually threaten that much. Charles did run onto a nice diagonal through ball but shot wide from a difficult angle.
Almería won the first half on points, and Villarreal clearly needed to change some things, but it was scoreless at the break.
HT Villarreal 0-0 Almeria
Though all of us commenting on this site wanted some halftime changes, Ruben Uria (well, Marcelino really) kept things the same. And things remained about the same. How Jaume Costa didn't see yellow in the 51st minute I don't know, and shortly after that Vidal (that man again) forced Juan Carlos into a difficult save. But three minutes later came the goal that sent El Madrigal into ecstasy--it didn't seem as though much was happening, but Cani got control of the ball just inside the by-line in our half, and as he reached the halfway line he made a perfect pass to the onrushing Jony Pereira. He feinted and then hit the ball beyond the sliding Esteban, and it was 1-0 to Villarreal.
Almeria needed two goals now. Zongo came on for Falqué (who was anonymous, I am happy to say);Juan Carlos punched a dangerous free kick clear in the 61st minute, and in the 63rd Villarreal had made the change we all expected, taking Juanma off (just after he had lost control of the ball to snuff out a promising attack) and bringing on Manu Trigueros. This worked pretty well, because Trigueros was able to control the ball in tight spaces and also act as a conduit between the back four and our front two, something Juanma hadn't been able to do.
Villarreal went close on another free kick opportunity, but were content to let Almeria control the ball, then defend and try to start a quick break. Perbet picked up a yellow for controlling one of these passes with his hand (not his first of these infractions on the day) and was taken off shortly for Gerard after becoming quite angry with the attentions of one of the Almeria defenders.
Carlos Calvo came on for Almeria and was quite active down our right, but the best chances of the half fell to Zongo. Villarreal had done well to win a corner with nine minutes of regular time remaining, but it was cleared and from the resulting attack Zongo had time at the top of the box, but scooped his shot straight to Juan Carlos. Three minutes later Zongo had the ball in a dangerous position but pushed it across the goal with JC beaten. Again, though, a Villarreal defender was first to the ball.
With three minutes of regular time remaining there was a bit of argy-bargy, beginning when Rubén, who had just come on for Almeria, took Gerard Moreno down with a tackle that should have seen red but only brought a yellow. Cani complained, there was a lot of pushing and shoving, and the referee showed a few more yellows as the clock wound down.
As four minutes of injury time began, Marcos Senna came on, as we all knew he must-- for Jony Pereira. The ovations for departing and arriving player were tremendous, and Villarreal did a very good job of winning throwins, winning fouls, and generally controlling play over a clearly demoralized Almeria. We even had time to see Senna touch the ball a bit and win a corner as the game ended. When Señor Vicandi blew his whistle for full-time, El Madrigal exploded with joy.
FT Villarreal 1-0 Almeria!!!!
So, let's look back at Sid's keys to victory:
(1) control Charles. We did that, and as the game wore on he was less and less of a factor. The last 20 minutes he was petulant--he could have gotten above 5 yellow cards today--but hardly touched the ball or got into a dangerous position to finish anything off. The sort of chances he put away in their preceding five games eluded him today.
(2) get the lineup right. Well, not so much, though if Manu really couldn't go a full 90 I am not sure what else the Villarreal coaching staff could have done. Juanma didn't cost us any goals, but he was not helping us in any way in midfield, always being unable to pass his first man. I did think the changes we made were the appropriate ones--Manu and Gerard added fresh, young legs and did well.
(3) control our emotions. Well, for the most part, yes. Especially in the face of some provocation from Almeria and a referee who let them get away with a lot of it. Showing some yellows early on would have controlled the game a bit, and it nearly boiled over at the end when Ruben tried to take Gerard's leg off and only got a yellow for it. And Perbet's petulance could have cost us, too--it was good he came off when he did, because he was clearly frustrated at being continually fouled.
So now we can begin the deliberations and discussions about life in the Primera. Hem tornat, indeed!