Gaizka Garitano made his La Liga coaching debut for Athletic Club on Monday night in a game that was full of pressure. The new manager was without a few key players and absolutely needed a win to start helping the Lions climb out of the relegation zone. The San Mamés was in full support of Garitano’s and his team and the Basques responded with a terrific performance.
Just six minutes into the game Athletic would get their first great chance when a shot from Iñaki Williams forced a diving save from Gorka Iraizoz. Moments later Beñat sent a free kick into the box which saw Aritz Aduriz direct a header at the bottom corner. The Girona keeper once again got a hand to the ball to deflect the shot.
In the 14th minute Aduriz had another shot on goal from close range which Iraizoz saved. However, replay showed that it struck the hand of a defender but it was not reviewed by VAR. The visitors would then respond with a chance of their own that caused some drama.
Girona had a counter attack down the right wing which turned into a 2 on 1 after Unai Nuñez fell down in pursuit. The Catalans put the ball past Iago Herrerín to make it 1-0 and stun the San Mamés, but it immediately went to review. VAR ruled that the forward had touched the ball with his hand before scoring and the goal was overturned.
It would take some time before the Basques were able to take back control. Minutes before halftime a corner kick skipped through the box and Raúl García was almost able to head the ball in. Then Iñigo Córdoba has a beautiful volley saved by Iraizoz just before the halftime whistle.
Although Athletic were able to keep control in the second half they found it harder to break down the Girona defense. Neither team was able to create any real scoring chances, but that changed in the 73rd minute when Iraizoz was able to get a finger on an Aduriz header and deflect the ball off the post. It looked as though the Lions just weren’t going to be able to find the back of the net.
The Basques seemed to be heading for another disappointing result until substitute Iker Muniain earned a penalty in stoppage time. The San Mamés held its collective breath as Aduriz stepped up to take the spot kick against his former teammate that he had practiced penalties against for years. The striker calmly chipped the shot down the center of the goal sending Iraizoz the wrong way to give Athletic a late, and deserved, 1-0 win. The players and fans celebrated with passion as relief as the Lions ended their 14 game winless streak in La Liga and have now set their sights on climbing out of the relegation zone next week when they take on Alavés in yet another Basque Derby.