Sunday, 28 February 2016
Much of my pre-match press conference was conducted via a translator. My Spanish isn't terrible, per se, but it is very limited and for the time being I feel having a translator by my side is the most efficient way to project my thoughts to the media. I was questioned a lot about how I plan to set my team up which was to be expected. As I have no prior experience, the press have very little information to predict from. I only had one answer.
"Para la victoria. (To win.)
" My translator replied, causing chuckles from those gathered before us.
I faced further questions regarding the poor form of our opponents, who have lost their last five away games. The vultures circled around my feelings towards my opposite number, Constantin Galca. I refused to cause a scene - the Romanian, I said, is more than capable of handling a relegation battle.
Personally, I used the press conference as a method to attract the attention of the people of Gijón. We needed them way more than they needed us, I proclaimed, and we could only survive with their support.
And I have to give them credit, they have responded in their numbers. I walk out from the tunnel, just seconds ahead of the team, to a deafening applause. I salute the crowd in appreciation as I head to take a seat in the dugout.
The announcer begins listing the teams, with the crowd applauding louder after each Sporting player is announced. The team looked something like this:
Both teams started the game at an electric pace. El Molinón was in fine voice and Espanyol knew they would have to be at 110% to get anything from the game. The first meaningful piece of play came for us came on the counter. Marco Asensio, Espanyols tricky little winger, initially got the better of Meré and the stadium fell silent as he appeared to be through on goal. The young centre back didn't stop at his mistake, hassling the Real Madrid loanee out of possession to a rapturous cheer from the home supporters. His long ball forward found Sanabria on the edge of the Espanyol area, encircled by three opposing defenders. After somehow sliding between two of those, he squared the ball to his striker partner, Guerrero, who cannoned the ball onto the crossbar and into the goalkeepers hands.
The intensity of the match, despite the lack of clear cut chances, blinded my awareness of time as the fourth official put the board up to indicate a minimum of three minutes' injury time. And with that, the visitors broke away. Asensio was again causing problems down our left side - this time skipping way too easily beyond Hernández. The Spaniard appeared to take the ball away from goal with his right foot, before hitting a surprise effort with his weaker left foot. Cuéllar wasn't expecting such a fierce effort and could only watch in despair as it claimed the post and went behind for a goal kick.
Half time was sounded for by the referee and both teams temporarily returned to the dressing room. I talked to the team about calming down when we were in possession of the ball. They had impressed me with the intensity of closing Espanyol down high up the pitch, but once we had won the ball everything seemed a little rushed. Guerrero, aside from hitting the woodwork, had been poor and was snatching at most of his chances.
I made the decision to withdraw him from play, to be replaced by Carlos Castro. It was a big move, meaning our front two of Sanabria and Castro were 19 and 20 years old respectively - but I hoped their inexperience meant they could act without pressure in front of goal.
The referee signalled for the start of the second half and it was immediately evident Espanyol were out to shut us down and hold out for a single point. We were winning the ball back high up the field, but we were completely nullified by Espanyol always having more numbers ahead of us.
We were having a lot more possesion in the second half, but much of it was wasted in our back line.
As full time approached in an increasingly frustarting second period, we finally gave the Rojiblancos something to celebrate. A throw in close to Espanyols corner flag was taken quickly by López to Sanabria who had dropped short. The Paraguyan took the pace from the ball in one touch, swivelled, and precisely delivered a ball onto the head of half time substitute Carlos Castro.
While the Espanyol goalkeeper was picking the ball from the back of the net, Castro collapsed to his knees in the corner of the pitch - looking up at a red sea of thousands of celebrating supporters.
Espanyol hadn't long since restarted play when the referee signalled for full time, and El Molinón erupted with joy following an important victory.
Full time: Sporting Gijón 1-0 RCD Espanyol