Over the last two weeks the Athletic Club players have been banging the drum ahead of a difficult matchup with Celta Vigo. The Lions were going into the game eight points off of the European zone of the La Liga table with only nine matches remaining, so they knew the importance of winning at the San Mamés. The Basques would need a strong start if they were going to take three points and they dominated from the opening whistle.
Athletic’s midfield was magnificent, unlike their form for most of the season. The pairing of Ander Iturraspe and Mikel San José did well to continually win back possession and recycle the ball to create new attacks. Meanwhile, the defense held their ground and never seemed troubled. All the while, Iñaki Williams was causing problems for Celta’s back line while playing in the central forward role.
As the first half drew on Athletic would get several chances. The team continued to look for Iñaki over the top of in behind the defense and it led to a few shots on goal. Interestingly, the 23-year-old was taken down as he was making a run into the box only to be booked for diving. A replay revealed that he was kicked, but the penalty appeal was denied. From there the Lions were clearly upset and began to attack with even more ferocity.
The halftime whistle eventually blew with the Basque giants in total control of the game and Celta seemingly comfortable to try their luck on the counter. There were no changes at the break and Athletic came out with the same energy and got right back into creating problems for their visitors. The hosts would finally break the deadlock right before the hour mark when Raúl García got his foot on a corner kick. The shot struck the post and fell to Unai Nuñez who scored his first top flight goal and gave Athletic a 1-0 lead.
After taking the lead things started to change. Athletic took their foot off the gas and started playing a more defensive game instead of attacking Celta like they had for the first hour. As they relaxed, the visitors started to enjoy more possession and link together some chances. For the most part the defense did well to cut off passing lanes and clear the ball before any solid shots could be taken, but it couldn’t last forever. During stoppage time a cross fell to Brais Méndez who put the ball behind Kepa to draw level.
The game finally ended at 1-1 with Athletic taking a single point in a game that they dominated for over an hour. Some may looked to ignored penalty calls by the referee, but it was clear that the Lions relaxed and that allowed Celta to get back into the game. Now with eight games remaining, Athletic’s hope of qualifying for Europe just got even more unlikely. Next week the Lions will be on the road as they face off with Villarreal.