It's about time, said manager Marcelino García Toral. Time for a Villarreal win away from El Madrigal, a feat only achieved twice before in fourteen away encounters this season. And it came to fruition on Sunday evening in Córdoba.
Córdoba had conceded only eight goals at home in fourteen league matches, but Marcelino's new-look lineup put two past a somewhat hapless Alberto García in the first half. And it should have been at least three, but for Jonathan Pereira's unthinkable miss. But Jony did redeem himself splendidly on the stroke of halftime...
Standings update: Still 8 points behind 2nd-placed Almería. Thankfully, the deficit is not in the double digits. Firmly back in the playoff spots, 1 point behind weary travelers Girona and 4 points behind plucky Alcorcón. No looking back now, we hope.
Scoreboard watch: Relatively easy tasks (on paper) for our direct rivals in jornada 29. Almería hosts away strugglers Las Palmas, Girona welcomes relegation-threatened Huesca, and strong-at-home Alcorcón meets fading Recre. More interesting, but hopefully less relevant to us, is the playoff six-pointer between Sabadell and Ponferradina.
Five takeaways from the 0-2 victory over Córdoba:
- The lineup was a topic of hot debate before the match. With Marcos Senna and Rubén Cani out, Olof Mellberg available, and Javier Aquino assimilated, some changes were on the cards from the XI against Las Palmas. In the end, Marcelino only made two moves: Aquino replaced Cani, and Jonathan Pereira took the place of in-form Jérémy Perbet. A very mobile unit.
- And that mobility showed from the opening whistle. Unlike other matches where the Yellow Submarine has looked slow on the ball and has permitted the opposition to gather behind the ball, this Villarreal side attacked with width and pace. Jony spurned a glorious chance, laid on a platter by the resurgent Mario Gaspar, with Córdoba keeper Alberto well out of his goal. With everything at his mercy, Jony shot over a yawning target. Here we go again...
- Until another move down the right wing drew a free kick in a dangerous position. Up stepped Javier Farinós, arguably our best player in recent weeks. You could not throw the ball in a better location in the area, and Alberto flailed at the cross. Mateo Musacchio made good contact with his head, and Villarreal was off the mark. A nice goal for the under-fire Argentine center back.
- Would Córdoba immediately come into the match? Not on this day. Villarreal surged forward for a second goal, and just when it looked like the 0-1 scoreline would hold until the half, Jony made it happen. After a steal near midfield, Jony dribbled into the box with a step on his defender, our old friend Kiko Olivas. Alberto came out halfway to narrow the angle for a left-footed shot, but Jony had other ideas. A cutback to his right foot felled Kiko, and Jony ever so intricately chipped Alberto for arguably the Villarreal goal of the year. Pure magic.
- And that's all she wrote, more or less. We saw Manu Trigueros, Perbet, and Mellberg make second-half cameos, and Córdoba created a couple of chances, but two goals was a tough ask from a goal-starved side (averaging just over one goal per game). And we learned our lesson from Ikechukwu Uche in Granada last season: Joselu Moreno (also injured) was contractually unable to hurt his once-and-future employer.
A nice away win should calm the nerves and set our sights firmly on moving up the table. Now a streaking Sporting side (3 wins in 4 matches) visits El Madrigal, undoubtedly with vocal supporters in tow, but likely with little to play for. Unbeaten in 6 matches, Villarreal must continue its run with 3 points at home. A por todas!
What of Marcelino's lineup changes? In-game substitutions? Has Juan Carlos taken the #1 goalkeeper position for good? And what is our best striker tandem?