Malaga’s chances of returning to La Liga received a massive boost on Tuesday as they recorded their most impressive win of the campaign so far, seeing off Albacete 2-1 away from home having played for almost 40 minutes down to ten men.
The visitors had already amassed a two-goal lead prior to Gustavo Blanco Leschuk’s sending off in the 54th minute, when he picked up a second yellow card for a mistimed challenge on Nico Gorosito.
Until that moment, his side had been mostly in control against the team occupying the position directly above them.
In-form winger Javi Ontiveros gave his side the lead early on with a trademark finish. Cutting in from the left-hand side, the 21-year-old dribbled onto his favoured right foot before unleashing a stunning strike into the top corner, leaving Tomeu Nadal powerless to stop it.
Blanco Leschuk then also had an opportunity, this time with Ontiveros the provider, but the Argentinian couldn’t get enough whip on his shot to get the better of Nadal as the angle worsened.
In the second half, Malaga picked up where they left off and just seven minutes after the restart, Alfred N’Diaye doubled their lead. Blanco Leschuk laid off the ball to the Senegal international on the edge of the box and he dispatched his effort into the bottom left-hand corner.
Two minutes later, however, the game turned on its head with Blanco Leschuk receiving his marching orders and, moments later, Roman Zozulya reducing the deficit.
The Ukrainian forward nodded home Álvaro Tejero’s cross from the right to add to the anxiety levels among the travelling fans, limited in numbers by the rescheduling of the tie.
Albacete coach Luis Miguel Ramis had obviously sensed a weakness down Malaga’s right-hand side and had gone to deliberate lengths to target the space inside Cifu. Winger Javier Acuña gave Cifu a torrid time until he was hooked off in the 48th minute, then likewise terrorised his replacement Iván.
Malaga coach Víctor Sánchez reacted by placing N’Diaye on the right, but the hosts continued to find openings down their left with Jérémie Bela whipping in a series of dangerous crosses. The best opening came when Aleix Febas got inside the full-back to square for Zozulya, but Munir denied him with a superb reaction save.
The Malaga goalkeeper came into his own in the second half, claiming a number of high balls into the box and showing safe hands when tested. He also helped to slow down the game when in possession and inspired calm around him to help see out the game.
The hard-fought win lifts Malaga above Albacete into third place with one game left to play ahead of the play-offs.