|Athletic Bilbao (1)||Valencia (1)|
|Hugo Guillamon 43′ (OG)||Gabriel Paulista 50′|
In the 50th minute, Athletic Bilbao’s forward Oihan Sanchet had the ball in Valencia’s penalty area. With only five metres separating him from goal, Bilbao looked dead certain to double their lead over a faltering Los Che. But Jaume Domenech had other ideas.
As Sanchet unleashed a vicious shot, the Valencia keeper reacted so instantly that it seemed like a scene right out from The Matrix. After diving low to block the shot, he then sprung back to his feet to parry the loose ball away.
Bilbao may be called the Lions, but it was Domenech who exhibited the cat-like reflexes and courage last night. It was this save, coupled with Gabriel Paulista’s subsequent equaliser, that pulled the Bats from the jaws of defeat.
The visitors were coming into this game full of confidence. Bolstered by their recent victory over Elche and reinforced with three new signings, it has been an exciting week for Valencia.
And we had a chance to kickstart this new chapter by beating an old face – former boss Marcelino, now in charge of a high-flying Bilbao that has won 6 out of their 8 matches under him.
Valencia’s new trio all remained on the bench, as Gracia stuck with an unchanged side. And while many had expected to see Marcelino come out roaring against his former team, the first half was a real snooze fest. Domenech and his opposite number Unai Simon could have tied a hammock between their goalposts and taken a siesta.
But with just two minutes to go before the break, Bilbao were unexpectedly gifted an opener when Hugo Guillamon inadvertently deflected winger Jon Morcillio’s cross into his goal. You could see the anguish on the young defender’s face as he sprawled out on the ground, head in hands.
Valencia needed a reaction in the second half, and Domenech’s amazing save would prove to be the catalyst. As the Bats began swarming around Bilbao’s penalty area, the boys restored parity 15 minutes later courtesy of Paulista. Carlos Soler’s in-swinging corner found the Brazilian’s head, and we right back in it.
It would prove to be the last noticeable moment of the game, as both teams settled for a draw. But it would have been seen as a point earned for Gracia’s men. They had entered the lion’s den, and come away with equal spoils.
“We played a really good game against a really good opponent,” said Paulista. “I leave here happy, but we would have liked to get all 3 points.”
Valencia are slowing gaining momentum, and just in time too. It’s Real Madrid next.