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Villarreal 1, Athletic Club 1: A draw that feels like a loss

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Needing a win to close the gap on Athletic Club, Villarreal had the lead but a second yellow for Gabriel Paulista spelled disaster as the Basques came back to earn a draw.

David Ramos

What a match, what a mess.  Villarreal had the lead and perhaps could have come away with all three points, but a second yellow for Gabriel Paulista in the 66th minute changed all that, and a late equalizer by Aduriz gave Athletic a point.

Until the sending off, this had been a fairly even game between the two teams.   Villarreal's lineup looked much more like what we would've expected, with Gio and Uche up front, Cani, Oliver, Bruno and Pina in midfield, and Mario, Musacchio, Gabriel and Jokic in the back, Asenjo in goal.

The first 30 minutes or so were slightly dominated by Villarreal, who forced a number of corners but did nothing from any of them.  A shot from Oliver that Gorka Iriazoz got down to, and a Jokic cross that the keeper palmed away from Uche, were the only real threats, but Athletic didn't create much either.  it was cagey stuff.  The visitors looked dangerous when they broke forward, with Muniain and especially Susaeta much in evidence.

Disaster nearly struck six minutes before halftime, when Asenjo had to make an incredible recovery after Musacchio's foot sent a shot from outside the box splnning toward our net.  The keeper palmed it over, but from the resulting corner, Gabriel Paulista was called for a handball in the area, as he jumped to try to clear the corner and the ball clearly struck his hand (nowhere close to his body).  Aritz Aduriz stepped up, and Asenjo guessed correctly and saved his low penalty.

HT Villarreal 0-0 Athletic Club

Within two minutes of the restart, Villarreal were ahead.  Oliver ran onto a speculative long pass (I'm not sure from whom), beat the defender, and played a ball forward toward the far post and the onrushing Tomas Pina tapped it home. 
The next 20 minutes were quite entertaining, Villarreal coming close from a corner (the keeper just deflecting Musacchio's shot away) and Athletic's wingmen pumping in crosses in search of Aduriz.

On the hour mark Marcelino made his first substitution, Cani being withdrawn in favor of Aquino.  You could just tell how this was going to go--Perbet would come on at some point for Gio or Uche, probably Manu would replace Oliver at some point, we'd get a second goal from somewhere....and then, Gabriel went for a 50-50 ball in the middle of the pitch and received a second yellow, I guess for using his elbow.

Villarreal supporters were furious--it was not clear to me that it was an elbow, though it was certainly an enthusiastic challenge--too enthusiastic given you were already on a yellow.   But believe me, players get away with those sorts of challenges all the time.

So, an enjoyable match was ruined, and so too were Marcelino's plans.  If he thought about bringing on Manu and dropping Bruno back to CB, he didn't show it--on came Pantic for Uche.  Shortly afterward Jaume Costa came on for Oliver, who had just picked up a cramp and was pretty tired in any case.

Athletic used the extra man very well, and Villarreal found it difficult to relieve the pressure.  Gio was very lonely up front,  and though Aquino tried to go on some runs and link up with him, the visitors were able to control things.  The Submarine was being pushed further and further back, and the problem was it didn't look as though we had the legs to force a counterattack that could create a second goal.

Pantic had made a slide tackle to deny a sure goalscoring chance earlier, but with under 10 minutes to go, his inexperience showed.  Susaeta crossed the ball, Pantic was caught nowhere near Aduriz, and he snapped off a well-directed header Asenjo could do nothing about.

Now it was a question of whether we could get anything out of this match at all.  The possession was now 40-60 against us, and probably about 30-70 in the second half.  There was a wild sequence as normal time ended where Athletic won a corner against our exhausted defense, Aduriz went down in the ara and appealed for a penalty, and Muinain drilled a shot wide of the post.  Somehow, we survived that, and the four minutes of extra time.

FT Villarreal 1-1 Athletic Bilbao

To be honest, I think we needed to score a second goal to win this one, but the sending-off really took away any chance we had of doing that.  This referee is the same one who screwed us in the Malaga match, and he did it again today.  And that's now 75 minutes of 180 played against Athletic a man down, by the way (Athletic has now played 11v10 in three of their last four matches).

Marcelino said he was proud of his team today, and I think he should be, but for those of you wondering why Gabriel has been brought along slowly, you saw why today.  He's an excellent one-on-one defender in open play, but he is definitely a work in progress when it comes to set pieces or balls in the air coming towards him.  Overall, a draw that definitely feels like a loss, especially since we've now fallen to sixth in the table and are only a point ahead of Sevilla.

We are still 9 points ahead of Valencia, but they can cut it to 6 with a win against us in the Mestalla next week, and since we'll have a makeshift back four, I'm not feeling confident.  But that's for later.  Endavant Villarreal!!