Athletic celebrate Oihan Sancet’s first goal (MD)
Athletic’s hopes of qualifying for Europe were alive and well going into Saturday’s match against Mallorca. However, the outcome of the game would decide whether or not the Lions would seriously be in contention for a top seven finish. Following the loss to Barcelona, Gaizka Garitano’s side needed a big win at San Mamés to move up the table and the players were up for the challenge.
Garitano started a very strong lineup which surprisingly included Oihan Sancet who was excellent against Barcelona. From the opening whistle the Basques were in control of the game while Mallorca looked to create chances from out wide. The defense was put under pressure at times, but dealt well with attacks. Going forward Athletic were dangerous and linked play together with Unai López pulling the strings.
It would take 15 minutes for Athletic to opening the scoring when Raúl García was clipped in the box and awarded a penalty. The 33-year-old finished from the spot to give the home side a deserved 1-0 lead. Having gone ahead Athletic pressed high up the field to prevent Mallorca from responded and would soon double their lead.
Less than 10 minutes later López would play a corner kick short to Iñaki Williams who would return the ball. López then whipped a low cross into the box where Oihan Sancet was waiting to smash a shot just inside the near post. It was Sancet’s first goal for the team and put Athletic in full control with a 2-0 lead.
Mallorca continued to search for a way to get back into the game but struggled to break down the Athletic defense. Ander Capa, Iñigo Martinez, and Yeray made things difficult for the visitors while Dani García often dropped back to close the middle of the field. Further ahead Athletic’s press forced a number of turnovers in the final third but the Lions were unable to score another goal before the break.
Asier Villalibre scored the third goal to seal victory at San Mamés (AC)
Athletic picked up where they left off in the second half with Williams and Sancet putting Mallorca under pressure early on. Just a few minutes in the visitors were forced to clear several crosses to deny Athletic clear scoring opportunities. However, just when it seemed as though Athletic were destined to add another goal Mallorca would catch a break.
Yuri Berchiche took down Aleksandar Trajkovski inside the box to give Mallorca a penalty. Ante Budimir sent Unai Simón to pull a goal back and from there the visitors went on the attack looking for an equalizer. Athletic were put under pressure but managed it well before finally killing off the game in the final minutes
Mallorca had sent everyone forward which afforded Athletic a promising counter attack in the 90th minute. Iñigo Córdoba played Mikel Vesga into the box and the midfielder found Asier Villalibre waiting at the far post. Villalibre settled the pass and put his shot into the back of the net to give Athletic a 3-1 lead and the victory.
Taking all three points saw Athletic climb to just two points off of seventh place. With six games left the play the Basque giants are very much in the running for Europe and will need to build on Saturday’s excellent performance to continue climbing the table. Next up, Athletic will travel to Valencia on Wednesday night where the final result will have massive ramifications.