«No Queremos Football los Lunes» (We don’t want Monday football), rang out around Son Moix throughout RCD Mallorca’s game against Real Zaragoza last night. In truth, the Vermillion took quite a liking to Monday football, romping away emphatically to win the game 3-0 following the sending off of Real Zaragoza left back Carlos Nieto on 73 minutes.
Up until that stage the game had been a nervy affair, at least in the stands, with RCD Mallorca chasing all three points to capitalise on Cadiz’s slip up at home to lowly Cordoba on Sunday. Capitalise they did, eventually in style, and once Nieto had been given his marching orders the game was over and RCD Mallorca turned on the style.
Once Abdon Prats, on as substitute for the hardworking but ineffective Ante Budimir, smashed home RCD Mallorca’s second the game was about how many RCD Mallorca would score. They finished with three but it could have been a lot more with Budimir and, twice, the substitute Stoichkov missing with only the goalkeeper to beat inside the box.
Zaragoza must have gone into the changing room after the match dazed and confused about what had taken place in the final 20 minutes at Son Moix. For long periods throughout they dominated possession without creating too much. They looked very much a side with quality but just totally devoid of ideas away from home in the final third and have now failed to score in their last 3 away games, albeit all against top six sides.
RCD Mallorca limited them to pot shots from outside the box, their best coming on from a bullet volley after a cross field switch of the play. Reina, and Son Moix, will have been delighted to see it arrow into the side netting. Real Zaragoza would argue though that their game plan up until the sending off was working and that they were still within reach of a point.
Football was once called a game of two halves, and RCD Mallorca and Real Zaragoza provided a game exciting throughout but one that finished in a totally unexpected manner for all those who had observed the first 45 minutes. The fans protest against Monday night football in the Fons Nord meant that the two blocks behind the goal were totally empty until the 5th minute. No band, no flags, no megaphone, no chanting. A well orchestrated and well supported protest.
The protest did lead to a slightly subdued early atmosphere, almost like a preseason friendly. You could hear the players calling to one another whilst the rest of the ground did their best to bring some encouragement to the Vermillion. Little did we know how the mood would change. Real Zaragoza’s small but noisy contingent joined the protest, themselves victims of Monday football for three consecutive weeks, beginning last night.
So often do we see fussy referees in games in the Segunda, brandishing cards when some game management would suffice, or giving overly soft decisions. Ramos De La Fuente was a new breed, blowing fouls for the slightest of things, taking a dislike to Budimir, making basic errors for throw ins and corners for both sides, letting almost everything go that is a mandatory yellow card on a number of occasions (shirt pulls etc) and aggressively running towards Sastre on two occasions almost wishing to provoke a further reaction so he could send him off.
There is a serious inconsistency amongst referees in the Segunda division and how they apply the laws of the game which cannot make it an easy league for a player to play in. It is little wonder that the league seems to be littered with red cards, usually for two bookings. It isn’t often that your team wins 3-0 and the local crowd make a special effort to give the referee a vocal send off as he escapes down the tunnel but this is exactly the treatment that the Son Moix faithful reserved for De La Fuente.
The first half turned into an end to end spectacle which, despite the frustration it brought, the referee’s performance added to in terms of drama and entertainment. Whilst Real Zaragoza dominated slightly the possession statistics in the first half (55%-45%), this RCD Mallorca side is always good value for their forages forward, creating good crossing opportunities or strikes on goal in a good proportion of their attacks.
Mallorca’s style is direct, in a purposeful way rather than a long ball way. They don’t pass the ball for the sake of passing, everything is done with meaning. They have athleticism in the side and make it their mission to get forward, do it quickly and where possible in numbers. Full backs support their winger, with Estupiñan and Lago Junior forming a formidable partnership. The latter was much more his normal self last night, due in part to the fact that Zaragoza pushed forwards and attacked, leaving space in behind for Lago to exploit. As for Estupiñan, there is a growing maturity, quality and consistency to his play which will interest Watford, his English parent club, no end. This is a player who will go on to play in the top division of a major European league no doubt, let´s just hope it is with RCD Mallorca next season.
Real Zaragoza had played their part well in the contest in the first half, with Pep Biel and Miguel Linares looking lively as Zaragoza zipped it about. With the half deep into stoppage time, 46 minutes and 54 seconds to be precise, Lago picks a perfect cross out from deep, finding the head of Antonio Raillo who heads back across the goalkeeper for the perfect finish to the half.
Goals have been rare before this week for the centre back but he just might be adding a few euros to his price tag, should Mallorca sell him in the Summer window. Quite what he was doing up the pitch in open play I’m not sure, and neither was Vicente Moreno who said as much in his post match interview. So surprised and unsighted from the opposite end of the pitch were the Fons Nord fans, that initially they were chanting Budimir´s name as the goalscorer. There will be no complaints from Vermillion supporters though and if the team can add goals from all around the team then it will lighten the load on the forwards.
After a nervous start to the second half, Moreno brought Abdon on for Budimir whose wilful running created openings again but he just couldn´t find the finishing touch. Moments later, the defining moment of the second half took place and, despite Mallorca´s lead, it totally changed the complexion of the game. From sometimes nervous and conceding territory and possession, Mallorca transformed into an attacking juggernaut.
Salva Sevilla showed his class with a no look reverse pass that split the defence finding Abdon, who took a touch and fired emphatically home into the roof of the net. His celebration is one of a man who has not had ample opportunity this season. Initially finding himself behind Alex Lopez in the pecking order, he fell further back when Moreno brought Nikola Stojiljkovic and Ante Budimir to the club. Following injury to the former in the game against Las Palmas, and Lopez´s petulant walk from the pitch when substituted against Real Oviedo, he has found favour.
Abdon´s passion for the club, who he rejoined last season for the Segunda B campaign, cannot be doubted. The Mallorquin celebrated his return to goal scoring form with energy and passion, sprinting his way towards the corner before being mobbed by his team mates. It is his first goal in the Segunda for Mallorca for nearly 6 months and he will want to play a key part in what remains of the story of the 2018-19 season.
Chance upon chance followed as RCD Mallorca ran riot with saves, deflections, blocks and near misses a plenty, looking like they could score with every attack. Lago Junior’s eyes had clearly lit up at the extra space he was afforded and he consistently beat his marker on the left hand side. Then, picking it up centrally he played the ball to substitute Aridai who put the icing on the cake by firing it through the goalkeeper at the near post who really should have done better.
Aridai, RCD Mallorca and Moreno will not care how the goals came or whether they came against ten or eleven men. All they will care about is the points and the spirit and confidence in the camp which is clearly growing. At time in the last 20 minutes you had to check it was Real Mallorca and not Real Madrid who were taking Real Zaragoza to pieces with one touch football. The fans clearly appreciate the effort, desire and qualities of these players and showed it more vocally than before this season. At the final whistle the players even approached the fans behind the goals to celebrate, there is a feeling that momentum towards something big is building here.
The result leaves Mallorca clear out ahead in 6th position, 2 points ahead of their nearest rivals Cadiz. With a more favourable away game to come next week against relegation threatened Cordoba, RCD Mallorca will hope to pick up another maximum 3 points. Following that they have a rest week and take the automatic 3 points from their cancelled fixture against now extinct Reus after which the table could look very different.
RCD Mallorca fans will be wondering just how far they can go on this journey they are on. If they can continue to make improvements on the road then perhaps La Liga is not as far out of reach as some may believe.