Villarreal blew yet another late lead, this time at Anoeta in San Sebastián, and conceded a 1-1 draw to Real Sociedad in the early Sunday time slot. Marcos Senna continued his revival with a well-taken goal on the stroke of halftime, and Carlos Vela leveled with his eleventh goal of the season four minutes from time. A strong hint of offside, but a brilliant chilena by the in-form Mexican winger. A fair result in the end.
Mario Gaspar and Marco Ruben returned to the starting XI after injury layoffs, while Jonathan de Guzmán was a surprise starter in midfield. Thankfully Hernán Pérez continued in the side, leaving no room for Rubén Cani and Ángel López.
For La Real, under-fire French manager Philippe Montanier omitted his countryman Antoine Griezmann from the starting XI, opting for the more defensive-minded David Zurutuza. As a result, Imanol Agirretxe was a bit isolated up front in the opening hour.
I missed the first half, I fully admit. But from a quick scan of the DVR and the play-by-play from Marca and maddi, I have a gist of what happened.
The first half-hour was relatively dour, with both sides feeling the pressures of a relegation battle. With no Griezmann on the opposite wing, Vela was relatively contained, and Xabi Prieto naturally drifted into his central midfield playmaking role. So Mario and José Manuel Catalá had a relatively easy time.
The match picked up as halftime approached. Prieto nearly gave the hosts the lead in 35', striking the post after beating Mateo Musacchio. Iron kind to Diego López, and the Yellow Submarine breathed a sigh of relief.
Then Senna continued his revival and tallied what looked to be the game-winner in 42'. Ruben held up the ball well on a couple of occasions, allowing Borja Valero and then Catalá to come forward. Our left back put in a cross aimed at lone target Ruben, but the ball squirted free to Senna at the top of the box. Senna made no mistake, placing the ball past Chilean international keeper Claudio Bravo.
42': 0-1 Senna
And so we went to the break. Montanier heard whistles, while Villarreal was forty-five minutes from salvation.
Half Time: 0-1
The second half was a different story, probably because I woke up. La Real was on the front foot for most of it, but first Ruben, then Cani, had clear-cut chances to end the match. Both came in the opening fifteen minutes.
Borja put Ruben in alone in 52', but Bravo made a kick save and a beauty. We've seen that far too often this season.
Cani's chance was arguably better in 61'. Hernán the Paraguayan dynamo changed speeds to beat defenders down the right, then played an inch-perfect cross to Cani, who had just replaced de Guzmán (Miguel Ángel Lotina's first change). Just a touch was required, and not at a comfortable height for the keeper. But Cani found Bravo's hand when scoring would have been easier.
Two huge let-offs, and the Yellow Submarine eventually paid for its wastefulness. Griezmann, Rubén Pardo, and Joseba Llorente (hi!) came on for the txuri-urdin, but we were still in control with ten minutes left. Then Lotina brought on Ángel for Hernán, arguably our best player, and the formation collapsed.
La Real then came in waves, and our midfield's fatigue was apparent. After all, our youngest legs had been taken off. And Ruben offered little after 80' of battling center backs. So Griezmann took center stage.
The 21-year-old Frenchman whipped in a cross from the left, finding a blue-and-white jersey in the box. The nod-on reached Vela, who had obtained some separation from his marker. Was he offside? I thought so. But the Mexican international finished with aplomb, acrobatically denying Villarreal salvation.
86': 1-1 Vela
Arguably another tactical mistake by Lotina, but I can't imagine the manager told Ángel to play as a second left midfielder. So there's blame on all involved. We've seen this story before.
The cherry on top was an apparent hamstring injury to Borja. We desperately need him for the next two matches: home to Osasuna and at Sporting. Let's hope it's just fatigue.
Carlos Marchena replaced Borja, and thankfully the match petered out. Llorente looked for fouls as always, but Cristián Zapata had him under wraps.
Full Time: 1-1
An away draw is not a bad result. But it's another chance wasted to secure survival. Six points ahead, twelve points left. Two huge matches upcoming. We can do this. Endavant Villarreal!