|Valencia (0)||Athletic Bilbao (0)|
Giorgi Mamardashvili had already gotten away with a couple of close calls. A fumble here and the occasional suspect positioning there, the towering Georgian keeper had the profligacy of Athletic Bilbao’s players to partly thank for the clean sheet. He then came alive to finish the job.
Having usurped Jasper Cillessen and Jaume Domenech this season, the 21-year-old has proven to be an astute signing for Valencia. While still raw and at times naive, he displayed the sort of shot stopping that the team clearly needed in a 0-0 draw against Bilbao.
This was Los Che’s 7th game without a win in all competitions but Jose Bordalas’ men could have gone home empty handed if their Basque hosts had remembered how to score. The head coach named a fairly rotated side with Mouctar Diakhaby in an unfamiliar defensive midfield role – which Bilbao sought to exploit.
Sustained pressure by forwards Iker Muniain and Inaki Williams produced hairy moments that Valencia struggled to contend with. Mamardashvili certainly did not give his defenders confidence after a couple of potentially costly errors went unpunished in the first half.
But as the game wore on, a Bilbao bombardment pressed the Bats back, and set the stage for a Mamardashvili masterclass. First, he made himself big to save Williams’ 1-on-1 effort just under the hour.
Another big save came in the 3rd of 7 minutes of stoppage time, yet again denying Williams’ powerful header in the box. The icing on the cake was seeing Bilbao striker Asier Villalibre’s headed effort crash off the crossbar 2 minutes later.
In a physical match that saw crunching tackles and some gamesmanship, Hugo Guillamon got himself sent off in the final minute for a second yellow after pulling back an opponent.
The result means that Valencia is virtually out of the running for European football next season. It’s time to see out the last 3 games and regroup in the summer.