After a weekend when the world of football mourned the passing of Jimmy Greaves – one of his best anecdotes was about the fearsome and hard-tackling Liverpool defender Tommy Smith, Greaves said “As we went out on the pitch he handed me a piece of paper, it was the evening menu for the Liverpool Royal Infirmary !” – Real Mallorca gained another golden point on their return to La Liga when they held out against a higher quality side, and last season’s Europa League winners, Villareal. Mallorca finished the weekend on eight points after five games, a highly commendable tally for a newly promoted outfit this early in the season.
For the first 20 minutes we perhaps showed the visitors too much respect and they were all over us like a rash. The Palma side were chasing yellow shadows and our goal led a charmed life as some brilliant blocking defending and superb goalkeeping from veteran ’keeper Manolo Reina proved that we wouldn’t succumb to the visitors’ potent quality.
We were most definitely up against it early doors and the difference between us – the recently promoted side and the opposition with all the top level experience in the footballing world – was clear for all the 9,168 fans to see on a blistering hot September Sunday lunchtime.
Although we were overwhelmed, we managed to get a foothold back in the game midway through the first half and a brilliant breakaway move involving Kubo and Amath saw Dani Rodriguez fire wide.
In the 39th minute Maffeo tumbled over off the ball and it looked ominous for the ex Manchester City youngster – the stretcher was called for but the right back just about managed to hobble off with what looked like a muscle injury – another defender who’ll miss Wednesday night’s 10 pm kick off game against Real Madrid.
Maffeo was replaced by Joan Sastre and with more or less his first piece of action he was shown a yellow card for an innocuous coming together. Our referee on Sunday, Fernandez Cerro Grande, is considered to be Spain’s third best whistler but on Sunday night his decision making was dubious at best.
Earlier in proceedings the ball bounced off him in a period of play that saw Mallorca in possession and on the attack. To the total outrage of local fans, he gave the ball to the Villareal goalkeeper with the Mallorca players incensed.
Villareal’s manager Unai Emery kept bringing on quality substitutes as he looked for that all-elusive goal and their first win of the season.
The two teams went at it hammer and tongs and neither gave any quarter, both convinced that whichever defence buckled the three points were in the bag.
All credit to the Mallorca defence none more so than Brian Olivan who was switched from his usual left back spot into central defence. Ex Villareal defender Jaume Costa played a blinder in Olivan’s position.
With 13 minutes to go, Mallorca went all out for the winner and came mighty close. American striker Matthew Hoppe came on for his first appearance since arriving from Schalke in Germany. Sastre did the ground work passing to Hoppe and he stuck it away – but to no avail – offside.
Hoppe showed some neat touches and one back heeler had the crowd “Oohing and aahing” in appreciation. The last few minutes were frenetic, the ball going from one end to the other – the excitement was brilliant, as was the result.
Despite our makeshift defence we more than delivered against top class opposition. The whole team more than earned their wages, with Baba in midfield and Manolo Reina in goal deserving special mention. I watched the game down the south end, the first time I’ve sat in that area.
All was good apart from we couldn’t hear the stadium announcer because the sound system didn’t work ! Some stewards in their high viz jackets were doing nothing else but telling people who had removed or lowered their masks to put them on properly. One of them was Juan Alfano who was Hector Cuper’s fitness coach back in the late ’90s – he wasn’t too happy to be told off by some pubescent jobsworth.
Next Sunday it’s another home game against Osasuna, again at the unpopular time of 2 pm, but before that there’s a daunting trip to the Santiago Bernabeu to play some team called Real Madrid today night at 10 pm! Our players can hold their heads high after a performance on Sunday that has made many pundits sit up and take notice.
Any team that can play with a patched up defence, keep a clean sheet, and more than hold their own against one of Europe’s top teams is more than capable of giving “Los Meringues” a run for their money. Could we produce another shock result to equal the 1-5 scoreline back in 2003?
PS I noticed that before the Chelsea/Tottenham game, the crowd gave a minute’s applause in memory of Jimmy Greaves. Whatever happened to a minute’s silence?