Mallorca managed to keep their destiny in their own hands on Saturday by sneaking victory in an often tight game at stadium Son Moix. They came up against a stubborn Real Oviedo side who came with little intention other than to defend and leave with a point, a game plan that was scuppered by another strike from left back Pervis Estupiñan.
The Ecuadorian, on loan from Premier League Watford, has discovered an ability of scoring crucial goals since his inclusion in the team following injury to Salva Ruiz four months ago. Saturday’s winning goal was his third goal in ten games, a remarkable return for a left back, with those goals contributing 7 points to the team’s tally alone.
The win, crucial in pegging back Real Oviedo in the league standings, means that Mallorca leapfrog their opponents. That, coupled with all the weekend results going for Mallorca with defeats for Cadiz, Almeria, Albacete and Alcoron leaves the reds only two points away from the play offs. Not only have they gained ground on Cadiz, Albacete are now within reach following their defeat yesterday.
Do Mallorca fans dare to dream of making the play off places or perhaps even more? Saturday’s LaLiga2 results showed that it isn’t only Mallorca who has troubles on the road. Despite only having won twice away from home all season, Mallorca still sit 13th in the away form table. Other sides will drop points and if Mallorca can continue their strong home form whilst looking to add the odd point here or there away from Son Moix, then anything is possible.
The games against close rivals take on an added significance, with a trip to Malaga on the cards at the end of April and Deportivo La Coruna a month later. Avoiding defeat in those two outings would strengthen their case for a top six finish considerably. The Vermillion also host Almeria and Granada at stadium Son Moix, if they can remain unbeaten in those games taking 4 points or more then everything is possible.
Perhaps though it is the away games that will be even more significant in a division where home advantage makes such a difference. Mallorca still has to travel to four relegation threatened teams. Cordoba, Numancia, Gimnastic and finally Extermadura UD on the final day of the season, all places that we should be targeting victory.
The team seems to be learning from their mistakes, a positive sign. Six days previously in a lazy Sunday midday kick off Mallorca seemed to arrive to the field still half asleep, allowing Elche CF to take hold of the game and go ahead. There was no such lethargy on Saturday, starting fast and creating openings early.
Vicente Moreno also sees better than most the team’s weaknesses. Not blessed with an abundance of players with prowess in the air, Estupiñan´s winning goal showed that his side could adapt, a well worked short corner routine. Moreno himself read the game well and made changes to unlock the stubborn Real Oviedo defence. Starting with a 4-3-3 he quickly realised that it wasn’t working and switched to 4-4-2. Then, not playing at the level of his appearance off the bench last week, Alex Lopez was replaced by the lively Stoichkov and Mallorca changed again to 4-4-1-1.
Last week Lopez looked to have had an injection of enthusiasm following a period out of the team. Nobody can doubt that Ante Budimir is now firmly first choice in the striking department and Lopez seemed to have a point to prove. However, on Saturday he was ineffective once more and petulantly walked slowly from the field when substituted to the wrath of the Mallorca faithful in the stands, as his team still sought a goal to break the deadlock in this crucial game.
Budimir however, looks to be the signing that could be season changing. Not the most skilful, not the quickest and not brilliant in the air. What he lacks in those departments he makes up for with outright hard work. Time and time again on Saturday he chased defenders and gave them no time on the ball. He reaped the rewards of that away to Las Palmas when, under pressure, the goalkeeper slipped and gifted him the easiest goal of his career. He did so on a number of occasions on Saturday, robbing defenders of possession at will. His enthusiasm and hard work is infectious and he has already become a fan favourite. His permanent signing should be the number one priority for the club at this point.
Ultimately, Real Ovideo left with what they deserved. Their pre-match record, as mentioned in my preview, was one of defensive solidarity. They set up with ten behind the ball and made use of the abilities on the air of veteran forward Teche, a surprise inclusion from the start. He caused some problems for Martin Valjent and Antonio Raillo, but nothing that led to anything of note. Despite the protestations of the Real Oviedo manager in the post match press conference, when your side doesn’t even muster one attempt on goal let alone on target, you deserve to leave the island with nothing.
Following Estupiñan’s goal Oviedo pushed forward a little more. Their game plan by that point was in tatters and subsequently their defence ended up in a similar state. Without the protection of a solid bank of four and a further centre forward pressuring, the Oviedo defence creaked under the strain. Further chances arrived for Stoichkov on the volley, Budimir as he twisted and turned his way through and drew a save from the goalkeeper, and Lago Junior who scuffed wide.
One goal though was enough in what was always going to be a tight game. Joan Sastre was particularly impressive in defence, repelling a number of one against one dribbles into the box when isolated. He was not his usual accurate self going forwards but you do wonder how long Mallorca will be able to keep hold of the youngster if he continues to play at this level.
Baba put in a performance that will make it difficult for Moreno to bring Marc Pedraza back into the side. Intercepting, putting in crunching tackles and always in the right place before giving the ball simply to his team mates throughout, Baba put in a master class of keeping it simple. Whilst creativity and making the complicated pass is not his strength, every team needs someone who will do the dirty work and do it well.
Whilst Salva Sevilla continues to have a difficult time of it form wise, he was invaluable to the side in the final minutes. He used his experience to help the team see out the game expertly, leaving balls played to him to go for throws when offside, taking a booking for a necessary foul with Real Oviedo breaking, and drawing cheap free kicks.
As the season wears on it was clear from today’s performance and selection that, if Mallorca are to make the play offs, every player will have a part to play between now and June. The passion, desire and determination was there for all to see and it resulted in a deserved three points in this crucial game. Mallorca’s destiny is firmly back in their own hands and everything is possible.