Following two draws over the past week Athletic needed a big win at San Mamés to stay in the race for Europe. Real Betis visited the Cathedral having lost six straight games in Bilbao, but also desperate for points to stay clear of the relegation zone. Gaizka Garitano fielded a strong lineup to start the game and the Lions would be electric from the opening kickoff.
Iker Muniain drew a foul just six minutes into the game that prove to be decisive. A well-worked set piece saw Iñigo Córdoba play a low cross into the box where Iñigo Martinez managed the score with a back heel to give Athletic an early 1-0 lead. It was the defender’s first goal since joining the Lions.
Athletic refused to take their foot off the gas following the goal and minutes later Muniain was taken down inside the box and wanted a penalty. However, replay showed that the referee was right to wave play on. The Basques looked dangerous every time they took the ball forward, but Betis had their moments as well.
In the 17th minute Emerson was taken down in the box by Córdoba in what looked deserving of a penalty. Once again play continued and Athletic were constantly looking to probe the Betis defense in hopes of adding to their lead. Ander Capa and Iñaki Williams created trouble on multiple occasions before the halftime whistle sounded.
Athletic came out of the break still searching for another goal and Williams almost doubled the lead in the 47th minute. The striker was played through on goal but the Betis goalkeeper was able to make an incredible save to deny Williams. Betis would finally have another chance in the 56th minute when Borja Iglesias tried to chip Unai Simón who got a hand to the shot before the ball was cleared off the line.
At the hour mark Athletic were given a corner that should have seen Garitano’s increase their lead. Raúl García beat his defender but put his header off the crossbar. With just 15 minutes left to play Betis began to take control and put Athletic under pressure. The visitors nearly leveled the score from a free kick, but the header went wide of the far post.
Minutes later it looked as though Betis had scored but replay showed that Simón was able to make the save and swipe the ball away before it crossed the line. However, during the VAR review the referee spotted a foul from Martinez and awarded Betis a penalty. Sergio Canales stepped up to the spot and skied a shot over the crossbar. Simón would then be called on to make a terrific save from a free kick.
Fortunate to still have the lead, Garitano made a handful of changes by bringing on Asier Villalibre, Óscar De Marcos, and Mikel Balenziaga as seven minutes were added. Oihan Sancet had an immediate impact on the game and led an attack in the 92nd minute which resulted in Villalibre hitting the crossbar before Mikel Vesga forced a diving save with a shot of his own.
Despite the late chances, Athletic were unable to score a second goal and held strong in defense to keep Betis from finding an equalizer. The final whistle sounded with Athletic winning 1-0 in what was a good performance in a challenging match. Having earned an important victory Athletic moved back to 5 points off of Europe and will face a difficult test on Tuesday night when the Zurigorri travel to Barcelona.