Despite a less than stellar performance, Marcelino's men once again came away with the spoils in a routine win over relegation-threatened Sporting Gijón. Far from playing the kind of scintillating stuff that has characterized the club in recent years, the current Villarreal side has been instilled with a sense of ruthlessness and discipline that has guided the club to one victory after another – but we're not quite sure how.
There was controversy midway through the first half as Luis Hernández's long throw into the box sailed over everyone's heads, including Alphonse Areola, and into the back of the net. However, defender Bernardo was ruled to have fouled the Villarreal 'keeper and the goal was disallowed. This proved to be the wake-up call that Villarreal needed, as they took the lead five minutes later. Luis Hernández gave it away to Bruno with a misplaced pass, the Villarreal captain played in Soldado and, despite more than a hint of offside, he squared the ball across goal for Bakambu to convert with a simple tap-in.
Villarreal took charge of the game for the rest of the first-half and early into the second period, and it didn't take them long to double their advantage. Jonathan dos Santos played a cross-field pass which eventually found its way to Cedric Bakambu inside the eighteen yard box. The Congolese striker made a yard of space with a neat stepover and curled a stunning shot in off the far post to notch his eighth goal of the season.
Sporting lacked nothing for endeavor and managed to carve out several good opportunities, but it's easy to see why the Rojiblancos are scrapping in the bottom three as all of their chances went begging through a combination of wasteful finishing, poor final balls and last-ditch defending from the Villarreal defence.
Alen Halilovic, on-loan from Barcelona, was lively for the away side. The diminutive midfielder was at the heart of everything good for Sporting, finding space and creating chances, and his performance will not have gone unnoticed. It will be interesting to see if he could be included in any potential deal for Denis Suarez's likely return to Barca in the summer.
Villarreal now sit comfortably with the rest of La Liga's leading pack and have an eight-point cushion on their nearest challengers for a Champions League place. There's an old sporting adage that says winning while playing ugly is the mark of a great side, and with just under a half of the season gone, it's hard to argue that our league position is a fluke. There's still a lot of football to be played between now and the end of the season, but our destiny is in our own hands.
Villarreal (1) 2
Areola; Mario, Musacchio, Ruíz, Adrián Marín; J. dos Santos (Pina 78'), Trigueros (Samu 66'), Bruno, Denis Suárez; Soldado, Bakambu (Baptistão 71')
Subs not used: Barbosa (GK), Bailly, Rukavina, Castillejo
Goals: Bakambu 26', 51'
Bookings: Bruno 53', Ruíz 61', Samu 79', Soldado 87'
Sporting Gijón (0) 0
Cuéllar; Lora, Luis Hernández, Bernardo (Jorge Meré 39'), Isma López (Guerrero 69'); Halilovic, Carmona (Jony 64'), Mascarell, Nacho Cases, Álex Menéndez; Sanabria
Subs not used: Alberto (GK), Pablo Pérez, Rachid Aït-Atmane, Daniel N'Di
Bookings: Carmona 33', Nacho Cases 87'