A first-half goal from Scotsman Jack Harper was enough to seal a hard-fought 1-0 victory for Malaga on the road in Almeria on Monday evening.
The Blue and Whites returned to the top of Segunda with their third win from three matches, but Juan Ramón Muñiz’s side had to survive a late scare deep in stoppage time, with Moroccan keeper Munir saving from point-blank range before a penalty appeal against captain Federico Ricca was waved away.
It was a night of firsts at the Estadio de los Juegos Mediterráneos. Dani Pacheco made his first appearance in a Malaga shirt after his registration was finally completed on deadline day and he almost grabbed his first goal with an ambitious freekick from 30 yards out which was gathered by René on the second attempt.
The former Barcelona, Liverpool and Norwich man tried again minutes later but the ball didn’t carry well on the sodden surface and the keeper saved again.
However, on the 23rd minute, Pacheco turned provider, playing in the ball from the left for Jack Harper to side foot home.
Harper, who started the move himself with a neat turn on the half-way line, played the ball out wide before being teed up for what was an instinctive finish - his first goal in the Malaga first team.
With the lead, the visitors then had to soak up a lot of pressure, much of it relieved by a dominant performance from keeper Munir who commanded his area well and collected a number of high balls.
The Moroccan was called upon early in the second half to parry Sergio Aguza’s firm strike from outside the area out for a corner, then again to prevent what would have been a bizarre own goal from Pau Torres.
As the game progressed, more space opened up on the counter-attack for Malaga. Substitutes Hicham and Álex Mula had a chance each but perhaps showed their inexperience when passing up the opportunity to seal the game.
Instead, it went into the dying minutes with the game still in the balance and Malaga were forced to soak up a lot of pressure.
The resistance looked to have cracked with Alfred N’Diaye gave away a freekick in a dangerous area with seconds left on the clock, but Munir stayed big to block from point-blank range with his feet before Ricca slid across to block the rebound, possibly with his arm (though even replays couldn’t clarify).
Malaga rode their luck and now sit top of the pile as the only team still with a 100 per cent record.