|Valencia (2)||Elche (1)|
|Goncalo Guedes 23′|
Cristiano Piccini 86′
|Lucas Boye 75′|
From forgotten to unforgettable. Before last week’s match against Celta Vigo, Cristiano Piccini had not made a league start for Valencia in more than two injury-riddled years. At one point, it even seemed that the right-back was heading for the exit door.
How things can quickly change in football. The Italian Stallion is now the man of the hour after his last-minute heroics gifted Los Che a win over regional rivals Elche. Our unbeaten streak now extends to 7 games, and Piccini will probably be hearing his name being chanted in Valencia all week.
But victory did not come easy. The visitors, though languishing in 16th, were not a team to be taken lightly. New coach Francisco Rodriguez had secured consecutive wins in his first two matches with the club and was looking for a third at the Mestalla.
Valencia’s pre-match preparations, on the other hand, was complete chaos. Omar Alderete and coach Jose Bordalas had tested positive for COVID-19 just a few hours before the match. The Paraguayan’s absence further depleted Valencia’s defence, with Gabriel Paulista already injured and Jose Gaya suspended.
No coach, no captain, and no first-choice centre-backs – things were looking ominous even before the match began. It would get worse when replacement left-back Toni Lato was forced off with an injury in the 19th minute, with Piccini taking his place.
But the worried faces on the Valencia bench would erupt in cheers just 4 minutes later when the home side took the lead. Dropped in the last match against Celta, Goncalo Guedes made a brilliant case as to why he should be a mainstay in the team with a stupendous goal. Jasper Cillesen’s raking ball found the Portuguese, who skipped past two Elche defenders like they were training cones before finishing with unerring accuracy into the corner of the net.
With assistant coach Patricio Moreno in charge for the night, Valencia seemed determined to show that it was still business as usual despite the notable absentees. Shot after shot rained down on Elche’s goal, with the on-form Hugo Duro a huge nuisance in the penalty box. Down the flanks, Helda Costa and Guedes were wreaking havoc with their pace and power.
But while there was plenty of menace, we had little to show for it. Only the one goal still separated the two teams deep into the second half, and there was a feeling that Valencia were about to pay for their profligacy. True enough, punishment was served in the 75th minute when Elche striker Lucas Boye stole in front of Dimitri Foulquier to poke the ball past Cillesen.
It seemed like the match was set to end in yet another drab draw until Piccini decided to send the Mestalla into delirium 4 minutes before full-time. Mouctar Diakhaby knocked down an inswinging Carlos Soler corner into the path of the Italian, who beautifully blasted it into the top corner and gave Valencia an early Christmas present.
The win takes us to 7th, and we’re now above Barcelona in the league. It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas.