The requirement in Requena was simple. We had to follow up the stunning 6-1 win with three points, no matter how they came about. I accept, the journey to the ground through the mountains was beautiful, but it would mean nothing if we had to return to Torrevieja without the points.
Pedreno kept faith with ten of last week’s eleven, the only change being Burguillos replacing Correlo, who was believed to be carrying a slight knock from training in the week. Playing in the bright yellow away kit on a far from high quality 3G pitch against a team looking doomed for relegation we had every reason to be confident. As the first whistle went I sat back, waiting for us to explode out of the blocks in the same manner as against CD Acero. Ten minutes in, I was still waiting.
Our tempo seemed much slower, both with and without the ball. Where in the previous game the front four were closing down the opposition defenders within seconds of them getting the ball, today we did not seem to be exerting the same pressure. When we had the ball, the zip of the pass was not evident. Sure, Requena were sitting very deep, and it became clear to me that we needed to overload the wide areas – the best tactic to employ when teams park the bus, exploit the flanks to use an FM parlance, or “get round the sides” as John Barnes would have rapped.
We did create an early chance from a corner, Adrian putting one on the head of Jorge, but the skipper headed wide. Moments later Cesar failed to connect cleanly from a cross by Cristian, after the winger had ghosted past his full back. By the 20th minute I had scribbled down that Ruben and Alexis were being allowed to have the ball at their feet for as long as the wanted, with zero pressure, putting the two defenders in the roles of deep playmakers. Unfortunately, with a lack of movement in front of them and the passing ability that is not that of Pirlo we resorted to hitting long hopeful balls in the direction of the strikers. Needless to say, this was not effective.
Requena started to grow into the game. In the twenty-second minute they had a good shout for a penalty, their left winger tumbling under a challenge from Vicente. The referee got the call correct and played on. Half an hour gone and a rare flowing move ended with Burguillos shooting from distance and it was safely gathered by the goalkeeper. Requena ventured up the other end and struck a thunderbolt from thirty yards, fortunately Oscar was equal to it, tipping the ball over the bar. It was the closest either team had been to a goal. As the first half came to an end, Torrevieja were still playing at a slow tempo and their movement was static. The Requena goalkeeper had yet been called on to make a difficult save.
Pedreno had noticed the same issue, and as the game restarted you could sense more of a buzz in the play. Within moments Brani had moved away from the wing creating space for Carrasco to drift into. His clever pass released Cesar, one on one with the goalkeeper, but the guy who finished so clinically last week was unable to repeat the feat. Two minutes later Brani had a great chance, but fired over following more clever work from Carrasco. The game was alive as Requena went up the other end and forced another brilliant save from Oscar, again tipping the ball over the bar. Then game the moment that could have decided the match. Alexis came together with his man in the area, and the big defender seemed to push the striker to the ground. It looked like a penalty from the stands, but the referee again played on, much to the dismay of the players, coaching staff and fans.
Fifteen minutes to go and Cesar missed the chance that suggested we were not going to score today, heading wide from six yards following another cross from the left. Anywhere on target would have meant a goal. The last five minutes went crazy, and it was only Requena who looked like scoring. Firstly, they had one correctly ruled out for offside, then Oscar made an incredible save from point blank range. The final whistle went and it felt like we had survived, which is not the feeling you hope to get when playing a relegation doomed side.
Results around us were far from disastrous, and we still sit in 13th place just six points off fourth place. Who knows, who knows. I doubt there have been many teams in 13th with eight games to go that have been promoted, but it has to happen one day!