Malaga turned back time and delivered a vintage giant killing on Easter Sunday as they saw off high-flying Villarreal by a single goal to nil at La Rosaleda.
With the news that Levante picked up a point in Girona (increasing the deficit to 14 points), Malaga knew only a win would do if they were to keep their faint survival hopes alive.
Refreshed after the international break and with confidence high after picking up their first point in eight games last time out in the 0-0 draw against Celta Vigo, head coach José González named the same line-up against a formidable Villarreal side who had returning Pablo Fornals and Samu Castillejo among their ranks.
It was let known early on that the former was no longer welcome at La Rosaleda after his half volley trickled wide and attracted jeers and whistles from the home fans.
The midfielder wasn’t given the easiest of times on the field either as Malaga worked hard to put him under immediate pressure as soon as he received the ball.
This allowed the hosts to get a foothold in the game, cancelling out each of the Yellow Submarine’s efforts with one of their own.
Youssef En-Nesyri proved a threat in the air while Diego Rolán cut in from the left on his stronger right foot in the 30th minute, curling his effort just inches wide of the top right-hand corner.
The Uruguayan forward was then involved in the defining moment of the game when he burst through a crowd and into the box before being upended by keeper Sergio Asenjo as he attempted to take the ball round him.
Chory Castro was not going to pass up the opportunity and smashed home the resulting penalty straight down the middle.
Suddenly the quiet around La Rosaleda eroded and there were shouts of ¡olé! as the hosts enjoyed an uncharacteristically long period of possession, ended only by En-Nesyri’s header straight at the keeper and the half-time whistle.
Haunted by memories of the second-half capitulation against Valencia, the Blue and Whites went out in search of a second goal and they could have had it if Miguel Torres guided his header from Roberto Rosales’ freekick inside the far post.
Villarreal boss Javi Calleja knew that he needed to change things up and brought on Enes Unal and Daniel Raba within 15 minutes of the restart.
After Nicola Sansone’s shot from a tight angle deflected into the side netting, the visitors were camped in Malaga’s half though without creating much in the way of chances.
This allowed Malaga several breakaway opportunities on the counterattack and but for the wastefulness of En-Nesyri, their lead could have been even greater.
The first chance to come his way came from a long pass into the left-hand channel. The Moroccan, however, took far too long to get his shot away and as the angle closed up, his final effort went out for a throw-in.
With ten minutes remaining, he then couldn’t react fast enough to get a touch to substitute Maxime Lestienne’s flashed ball across the face of the goal. Likewise, his shot from Manuel Iturra’s cutback was deflected wide of the post.
This made for a nervy final few minutes as Ignasi Miquel and Luis Hernández heroically continued to bat away wave after wave of attacks. The one time the defensive pairing were breached, however, Roberto was on hand to clutch hold of Roger Martínez’s low stinging shot.
With the win, those still believing in a miracle have further reason. That said, there are only eight games left to play – the next two are the relegation six-pointer away to Deportivo and Real Madrid’s visit to La Rosaleda.