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Villarreal hold Real Madrid 1-1 as cards fly wildly at El Madrigal

The Lotina era began tonight with a 1-1 draw against league leaders Real Madrid in a tightly contested game where unfortunately much of the media attention will be focused on the quality of officiating rather than the play.

As it turned out, Lotina played the same eleven as Molina's last match except he put Angel in midfield in place of Borja Valero. Real Madrid fans were questioning Mourinho's decision to start Lass already, and within 5 minutes he had gone in the referee's book. The first half was tightly contested, but moments of real drama were few.

Nilmar should have done better when he had only Casillas to beat, Cani and Senna both had good shots from the top of the box wide of the goal; the biggest talking point of the half was a shirt-tug that took Nilmar down when he was trying to shoot from a cross. It was missed by referee Paredes, just as he also missed what should have been a second yellow on Lass, and a foul from Bruno on Callejon (who had come on for Diarra as Mourinho recognized he needed to make a change).

The visitors hardly threatened from open play, but should have scored from a couple of free kicks when players had free headers in the box but put them wide. But otherwise, Ronaldo and Benzema were surprisingly restrained. Ronaldo did shred Oriol once, but our back four seemed relatively comfortable. The half ended with Pepe being fouled hard by Musacchio (taking an elbow in the mouth). Referee Paradas Romero carded Pepe, which given his reputation was amusing, but it indicated the lack of control the man in the middle had. No goals, but five yellow cards in the first half. At the time we thought one of these was to Marco Ruben, but it turned out it was Senna's.

HT Villarreal 0-0 Real Madrid

Over the first half Madrid had been squeezing Villarreal farther and farther back in the pitch, and in the first 20 minutes of the second half, this trend continued. Madrid was controlling play much more than previously, and it seemed a goal would inevitably come. Madrid had already used two subs (Callejon, then Altintop for him), and now Cani and Marco Ruben came off for us, replaced by Camuñas and Jonathan DeGuzmán! He lives! Seriously, it was interesting that Lotina brought him on after months in the wilderness.

And just after that, Madrid's goal did come, with Marcelo finding Cristiano Ronaldo, he passed the ball to Ozil, tearing past Zapata and receiving the German's clever backheel flick, rounding López and slotting home. The next ten minutes or so were pretty uninteresting; Camunas and De Guzman were trying to exploit Marcelo pushing up so far down our right whenever they could, but we were hardly troubling Casillas.

Martinuccio came on for Angel and won some fouls, forcing Marcelo to make a key clearance as Nilmar lurked. Higuain came in for Benzema, but nothing much was happening for Madrid either. All we needed was one chance.

Villarreal CF 1-1 Real Madrid | All Goals and Highlights | Goles | COPE | 21/03/2012 | Liga BBVA (via LigaBBVAHQ)

And in the 83rd minute, we got it. Referee Paradas awarded a free kick for what looked a legal challenge on Joan Oriol; the Madrid players protested as Marcos Senna kissed the ball and lined it up. Nilmar was positioned in the wall, moved aside, Senna hit it low and hard, the ball took one bounce past Casillas and into the net. 1-1!!!

The referee sent off Mourinho and another assistant for arguing, then within two minutes, all hell broke loose. Sergio Ramos committed a violent foul on Nilmar as he tried to steam forward on a counterattack down the right, and little Mesut Ozil received a straight red for sardonically clapping Paradas as he showed Ramos the red. Paradas then sent off more Madrid assistants as the Villarreal fans cheered and whistled.

However, even two men up we weren't safe, especially since Ronaldo was more than willing to run at us and frankly Villarreal wasn't really willing to attack full bore for fear of being opened up in the counterattack. With seconds to go, Madrid won a corner down our right, but Diego Lopez seemed confident we would survive, winking at his defenders as they prepared to defend it. Xabi Alonso floated it toward the far post, Lopez punched it clear, a yellow boot hit the ball well upfield and it was all over!

Well, not quite. Higuain got a yellow for protesting to the referee, and Pepe's slow, humorous handshake of the ref's hand was a thing of beauty. And then he was sent off in the tunnel, apparently (I'm not sure about that).

FT Villarreal 1-1 Real Madrid

For once, I am going to let our coach summarize things. From his press conference:

We did a lot of things right. We are gaining confidence....In the first half the teams were level, we tired in the second half. They made the changes, scored the goal. They are a better team. Look at the table....I only trained for 2 days with the team. I adjusted a few things. I don't want to comment or blame the ref.

All on all, a point we did not expect, now let's pick up three in Vallecas! Endavant Villarreal!