Marcelo Romero and Malaga came away from the Estadio de San Mamés empty-handed on Sunday after Raúl García gave Athletic Bilbao all three points from the penalty spot.
The decision was taken by the referee after captain Ignacio Camacho was adjudged to have handled the ball from Iñaki Williams’ shot.
Relegation-threatened Granada’s 1-0 loss at Leganés ensured that the Blue and Whites maintained a seven-point lead in the table over their Andalusian rivals, but Romero’s side yet again failed to take the opportunity to remove any chance of them becoming involved in the scrap at the bottom of the league.
The visitors’ best moments came in the first five minutes of both halves, before tailing away in the remaining 40 minutes of each period. Thirty seconds after kick-off Camacho forced Bilbao goalkeeper Gorka Iraizoz into action from a header, before Juankar’s dangerous run down the left also forced Bilbao’s captain to come to his side’s rescue.
Sadly, that was all that Malaga offered offensively in the first half as Fornals, Keko, Jony and Charles all failed to make any sort of impact. The hosts settled into the game and should have forced Carlos Kameni into action eight minutes in, but unmarked right-back Iñigo Lekue blazed his volley from Mikel San José’s corner over after arriving late in the box. Iñaki Williams and Martín Demichelis were engaged in an intriguing youth-versus-experience battle in the central attacking areas for the hosts, however it was Juankar who nearly gifted a goal away midway through the first half after making no contact with a long ball which he was trying to direct back to Kameni. The ball played in Markel Susaeta, but the Cameroonian goalkeeper was out quickly to block the winger’s shot.
Crosses from set pieces and wide areas were clearly Bilbao’s ploy to try and open the scoring, but staunch defence from Malaga, and Demichelis in particular, limited the quality of their opportunities. Yeray Álvarez glanced a header over from Beñat’s corner ten minutes from the half time whistle, before Raul García’s could only get a toe to the ball when attempting an overhead kick from Williams’ cross two minutes later.
Lekue was creating plenty of problems down the right-hand side with his crossing, but it was his left-foot shot from just outside the box, which took a huge deflection of Demichelis, which had Kameni scrambling just before half time.
Malaga began the second half just like they had the first, but Jony’s header from Luis Hernández’s long throw-in was tipped over by Iraizoz before Diego Llorente headed over from the resulting corner.
Raúl García’s influence on the game was certainly increasing, but his inaccuracy let him down on two occasions as he headed over from Susaeta’s cross in the 53rd minute before firing a tame left-foot drive past Kameni’s left-hand post 15 minutes later.
Unfortunately for Malaga, their stubbornness in defence, which had prevented Athletic from several clear-cut chances, was broken just under twenty minutes from the end. Lekue made another foraging run down the right, and his cut-back found Williams, whose first-time effort hit the hand of Camacho before smashing against the post.
The referee however pointed to the spot immediately afterwards after deeming Camacho’s involvement in the incident to be handball. Raúl García smashed the ball into the left-hand corner and simultaneously sent Kameni the wrong way to break the deadlock.
Eight minutes later, the Blue and Whites appealed for a penalty themselves after another long throw-in hit the arm of Aymeric Laporte, but the referee waved away their protests before booking Camacho for his rather overzealous complaints.
Another toothless attacking display from Marcelo Romero’s side meant that any chances of an equaliser were unlikely. That hypothesis was confirmed in the final minutes, with the closest they came to even having an attempt on goal came from a fantastic cross from substitute Youssef En-Nesyri, but Charles failed to make clean contact with it.
Malaga’s frustration boiled over in the final minute of normal time when a spat between players from both sides broke out and consequently saw goalscorer Raúl García and Charles booked. Five minutes were added on after that but the Blue and Whites created nothing and lost their third game on the trot.