First defeat comes in final minutes
La Liga Santander Week 3
Estadio Ciutat de València, Valencia, Spain
LEVANTE 2 (Sergio León 83’, José Luis Morales 94’)
REAL VALLADOLID 0
Real Valladolid have become accustomed to late goals in their matches as, for the third week in a row, the closing stages proved vital to the outcome. However, on this occasion, the last minutes brought with them a sting in the tail as Sergio Gonzalez’s side fell to Levante. An 83rd minute strike from substitute Sergio León pushed the visitors to the brink of their first defeat of the campaign, then a second goal in time added on from José Luis Morales was all that was needed to nudge them over the edge.
Paco López made four changes to his line-up following last week’s win over Villarreal. Out went left-back Toño and the injured right-back Coke in defence, with Carlos Clerc and Jorge Miramón replacing them respectively. In the centre of the field, he switched from a three-man midfield to a four with Rubén Rochina dropping back deeper. Sergio León and Enis Bhardi dropped to the bench and were replaced by Roger Marti – who scored a penalty double in the last match – and Borja Mayoral up front.
In a bid to maintain their impressive start to league play, Sergio’s only change was an enforced one. Losing captain Javi Moyano through injury meant that there was a starting berth for winger Waldo Rubio who had been so impressive when he entered the fray against Real Madrid in the previous match. Waldo lined up on the left flank, meaning Óscar Plano switched sides to play on the right and Pedro Porro dropped back into the right-back slot to accommodate the loss of Moyano. Fede San Emeterio, who enjoyed a solid debut in the last outing, maintained a central midfield partnership with Míchel who donned the captain’s armband.
The match started brightly for the visitors as they fashioned the first chance. Some good link-up play between Míchel and Porro played in Enes Ünal who passed to his strike partner, Sergi Guardiola. With two goals to his name so far this season, Sergi Guardiola showed that he has a deft touch to assist as well when he backheeled the ball to Waldo, but the young winger dragged his shot wide. Shortly before the quarter hour mark, Rubén Rochina attempted the first of what was to be multiple assaults on Jordi Masip’s goal at the other end, but his left-footed effort could not hit the target either.
The first moment of real controversy came moments later as Mohammed Salisu, who had looked incredibly comfortable in the opening exchanges, felled José Luis Morales as the Levante captain burst into the box. The referee had no hesitation in signalling for a penalty kick, but as Roger set the ball down on the spot, he raised his hand to his ear as has become customary. After receiving guidance from his VAR colleagues, the penalty decision was rescinded due to an infringement in the build-up to the foul where a Levante player had strayed marginally offside.
Shortly before half an hour had been played, Porro played a delightful diagonal ball into the box which dropped right into Sergi Guardiola and he hit it first time without breaking stride only to see his shot rising over the bar. The frontman was involved minutes later as he gathered a through-ball from Nacho after the defender had controlled the ball well. The former Córdoba hitman latched onto it in a flash and bore down on goal before stabbing past the onrushing Aitor in the Levante goal. Quickly, however, his delight turned to anguish as the assistant referee had raised his flag as he wheeled away to celebrate. With the benefit of various replay angles, it looked like a very tight decision indeed. As Pucela pressed for the opener, Ünal missed a gilt-edged opportunity to put his side in control. Again, a slick passing move began with Porro – who looked so comfortable going forward – to Waldo saw the latter backheel the ball into the path of Nacho on the left-hand side. He cut the ball back through a forest of legs and Ünal pulled the trigger but was unable to guide it inside the post as it shaved the paint on its way out.
If ever a move deserved a goal, it was for the home side. Rochina won the ball on the right flank and began a mazy run, slaloming past four Real Valladolid players before slipping a sumptuous pass through to Morales who then teed up Borja Mayoral, but the forward agonisingly hit the side netting of Masip’s goal. The Granotas managed one more attempt before the break, as Jorge Miramón cut back a ball across the face of goal and the outstretched leg of Roger was a minute distance away from contact which would surely have diverted goalward. As it was, the teams closed out the opening 45 minutes without scoring and headed into the dressing rooms to readjust.
If last week’s break did Sergio’s side good, then this week’s interval had the opposite effect. The team seemed to lose its way somewhat as Levante grew into the game in the initial stages of the second period. Rochina had two opportunities, one narrowly over the bar and the other one not so much. The home side held onto the ball better, but Sergi Guardiola still managed to threaten again. Ünal linked in with Óscar Plano on the edge of the box and the midfielder thought about shooting but rolled the ball out right to the striker. His shot right-footed strike was saved down low at the near post by Aitor.
Discipline began to fall by the wayside for both sides and there was a flurry of yellow cards over the following ten minutes. One such incident led to a free kick on the edge of the Levante area for the away side after Sergio Postigo had brought down Ünal. The Turkish striker took the free-kick himself and, with Nacho hovering over the ball, went for goal. He managed to get sufficient dip on the ball but not until it had flirted with the top of the bar and hit the roof of the net. With Pucela back in the ascendency, Toni Villa made his first appearance of the season, replacing Waldo on the left immediately after this. After Óscar Plano had made room for a shot, only to watch it be gathered comfortably by Aitor, Toni Villa was involved in providing another opportunity for his teammate. He held off a robust challenge on the left flank before darting into the box and rifling in a pass towards Ünal. Aitor was alert to the situation and dived out low to punch the ball away, but it fell to Óscar Plano whose connection let him down and the ball sailed over the bar. Less than two minutes later, he had his third chance with a left-footed shot which hit the side net just at the base of the post.
For all their knocking on the Levante door, Real Valladolid were to pay the price for not breaking through it. The hosts suckered-punched them with a goal that had more than a touch of good fortune about it. Substitute Enis Bhardi crossed in from the left and it took a deflection off the head of Porro allowing it to drop kindly onto the toe of fellow replacement Sergio Léon who touched it deftly past Masip to give them a late lead. The never-say-die attitude of the last two matches kicked in and Sergio swiftly made two substitutions within five minutes of the other. Firstly, the more attack minded Anuar replaced Míchel, who should not count this among his better matches, and this was followed with Nacho making way for young striker Miguel to make his season bow. However, in the fourth of six additional minutes, a further hammer-blow was dealt to the visitors as they chased the game. Miramon exchanged passes on the left side with Bhardi, then the right-back zipped a teasing ball across goal which got all the way through to Morales at the back post. Masip spread himself well to deny the opposing captain at his near post but could do nothing about the follow-up as Morales slammed the rebound high into the roof of the net to seal the points.
After such positive performances in all three matches, it was an obvious disappointment to not take something from a match against what could be considered the lesser of the opposition faced to date. However, Levante has been a team Real Valladolid have struggled with for quite some time and it spoke volumes about what happens if chances are not converted. Having found fortune in the closing minutes in the weeks prior, it was Pucela’s turn to leave the field with late regrets. A week without a fixture looms large on the horizon and this may well give the team time to put the loss behind them before kicking off in their own stadium for the first time this season when they welcome newly promoted Osasuna to the José Zorrilla.
LEVANTE: Aitor; Carlos Clerc, Ruben Vezo, Sergio Postigo, Jorge Miramón; José Luis Morales (Capt.), José Campaña, Nikola Vukcevic, Rubén Rochina (Erick Cabaco 89’); Roger (Sergio León 64’), Borja Mayoral (Enis Bhardi 78’).
Substitutes unused: Oier Olazábal; Toño; Gonzalo Melero; Hernani.
REAL VALLADOLID: Jordi Masip; Nacho (Miguel 90’), Mohammed Salisu, Kiko Olivas, Pedro Porro; Waldo (Toni Villa 72’), Fede San Emeterio, Míchel (Anuar 85’), Óscar Plano; Sergi Guardiola, Enes Ünal.
Substitutes unused: Andriy Lunin; Fede Barba, Antoñito, Joaquín.
Image: Levante UD Twitter