|Valencia (1)||Levante (1)|
|Hugo Duro 27′||Oscar Duarte 81′|
Gotham’s got Bruce Wayne. Valencia’s got Hugo Duro. Perhaps the supersized superhero banner draped across the Mestalla exterior, to promote the new Batman series on HBO, alluded to how the fabled stadium forges heroes.
With another defining goal in the space of a week, 22-year-old Duro is the city’s goal-scoring crusader – the team’s third-highest scorer with 7 league goals.
And it is in adversity that Duro has cruised. First in the crucible of the La Cartuja Stadium where he took the Copa final to extra-time, then in the Mestalla against a dogged Levante team fighting for survival.
The stakes were raised after Alaves beat Villarreal earlier to consign our derby rivals to the bottom of LaLiga, 7 points adrift of safety with 5 matches to play.
It was no surprise then that the opening exchanges were cagey. But just as the Mestalla cauldron stewed with frustration at a couple of poor set pieces from the home team, Valencia lit it up.
A good passage of play saw Goncalo Guedes find Jose Gaya with space on the left, who swung in a peach of a cross. Yet there was still much work to do, as Duro had to throw himself forward to thump a header against the crossbar and in. He might as well have donned a cape.
The goal sparked the match to life, with action on the pitch becoming more heated while the night chill descended. As the reality of relegation dawned on our regional rivals, challenges became more reckless. Things reached fever pitch when Gaya was adjudged to have elbowed Jorge Miramon off the ball on a counter-attack by the visitors.
A yellow card was flashed but VAR intervened. Referee Figueroa Vazquez played villain to Duro’s protagonist when he sent our captain off on 31 minutes, an absolutely baffling decision that only served to rile the crowd further.
Our players continued to fight hard, with Duro even filling in at left-back. It is such adaptability that endears the Spaniard to fans. In training this week, he even slipped on goalkeeper gloves – even if it was just for fun.
More yellow cards were brandished before halftime arrived as a ceasefire, with Jesus Vazquez replacing Hugo Guillamon to restore the back 5.
The decision to bring the teenage academy product on proved inspired, as he and Thierry Correia proved useful outlets with their pace and strength as Levante penned the Bats in our half.
The 10 men were organised, and when our opponents did get through, Giorgi Marmadashvili was imperious, his reach as long as his name. Enis Bardhi came close, thwacking the crossbar on 77 minutes after a short corner routine.
It was a warning we did not heed. Another short corner routine, this time on the other side, saw Oscar Duarte power in a header that gave Marmadashvili no chance.
Jose Bordalas would ring more changes in place of the fast tiring legs. The most heartening moment in the match was when Yunus Musah was brought on to encouraging applause from the Valencia faithful. They were eager to restore confidence to the youngster after he bravely stepped up to the spot in the Copa final but faltered.
In the end, a heroic display saw us rescue a point that we deserved and Levante needed.
Not quite the movie ending we were hoping for, but as the band sounded and kids wearing Hugo Duro replica jerseys shouted out to their idol during the post-match interview, this Los Che team is carving their own folklore of grit.