Last weekend’s loss to Getafe put Athletic in an interesting position. The Lions needed a win against Rayo on Sunday to move into 7th place, but anything less would’ve put another dent in the team’s quest for European qualification. Athletic knew just how important the fixture would be at San Mamés and came out firing from the opening whistle.
Less than two minutes into the game Athletic would open the scoring. A free kick from Beñat found Iñaki Williams alone on the far side of the box and the striker volleyed a shot at goal. His effort struck a defender and beat the keeper to give the Basques a 1-0 lead. Knowing that it would be a long match, Athletic continued to attack and forced Rayo to take chances.
Only 15 minutes later Athletic would have the opportunity to double their lead. Raúl García was taken out in the box while trying to win a header from a corner kick and VAR saw a penalty given. However, García’s penalty was saved as well as Yeray’s followup effort. Rayo were emboldened by the stop and immediately started to gain momentum in the match.
Later in the first half Athletic would be awarded a second penalty when Iñaki Williams was taken down in the box. The play was reviewed and Williams was seen going down before the contact which took away the penalty. Rayo felt even more optimism and finally found the equalizer just before stoppage time when Alex Moreno volleyed a shot past Iago Herrerín from a weak clearance by Iñigo Martinez.
Athletic refused to let the equalizer put them down and finished the half very strong, creating two chances in the box. It would be important to come out of the break with intensity and that’s exactly what happened. In the 50th minute, Raúl García stole the ball in the midfield and gave it to Iñigo Córdoba. The winger then played Williams into the box where the striker cut inside and put his shot inside the near corner to give Athletic the 2-1 lead.
Moments later Luis Advíncula would be shown his second yellow card of the match which gave Athletic even more of an advantage. However, Dani García and Yuri Berchiche both suffered injuries and had to be taken off the field which slightly altered Athletic’s rhythm. Still, the Lions continued to attack and weren’t content to defend their lead.
At the hour mark, Córdoba would nearly score the third when he curled a shot just high of the far corner. Just after Williams would out-run two defenders and before seeing his shot saved as he tried to round the goalkeeper. It felt as though more goals were just seconds away from Athletic until Rayo silenced San Mamés with a goal from a free kick. The play was automatically reviewed and it was confirmed that Mario Suárez was offside which kept Athletic’s lead intact.
With just 20 minutes left to play the match took an even more incredible turn. First, Iker Muniain was run over in the box but the referee waved play on. Seconds later Beñat hit the post with a shot from outside the box and Muniain’s resulting shot was saved. The ball then fell to Unai López who immediately put in a shot that was saved off the line. Having enough of the craziness, Raúl García then blasted a shot into the bottom corner from a Muniain assist to make it 3-1.
Athletic had all of the momentum and Rayo were forced to play far up the field. Every time the Lions had the ball they found open space and few defenders in their way but failed to take advantage. Williams, Muniain, and others all had chances inside the box but the final pass was missing. Then, in the 85th minute, Rayo’s risks were rewarded when Raúl de Tomás beat Iñigo Martinez to a cross to pull a goal back.
Muniain responded with a point-blank shot in the box that was amazingly saved before the referee added 6 minutes of stoppage time. Seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, Athletic began to control the pace of play and kept Rayo from creating any more chances. The final whistle soon sounded with Athletic having won 3-2 in one of the wildest games in recent memory. Athletic now sit 7th in the La Liga table and will travel to Real Madrid next weekend.