The dream is over. Malaga must face another season in Segunda, and almost certainly an overhaul of the playing and coaching staff, after limping out of the play-off semi-finals in front of a capacity crowd at La Rosaleda on Saturday night.
Following the 4-2 reversal at Riazor on Wednesday, Víctor Sánchez picked an attacking line-up, with Jack Harper and Hicham both coming into the side and captain Adrián dropping into midfield. At full-back, too, there were changes with the much more attack-minded Cifu and Juankar coming in.
However, their opponents Deportivo, in truth, rarely looked troubled on a night when the hosts needed to score at least two goals to progress. Instead, Malaga’s play looked slow and laboured and lacked any real direction until the second half.
Harper, an unexpected starter, was one of the biggest culprits of this. The Scot was hesitant on the ball and then passed up his team’s clearest chance of the game when he spooned over a volley when he found himself completely unmarked at the back post.
Javi Ontiveros, proved to be his side’s principal outlet as Malaga failed to make inroads through the middle. The winger rattled the woodwork twice in the first half but increasingly found himself frustrated as the game went on.
The introduction of Mamadou Koné in the 55th minute changed things: suddenly the hosts moved the ball quicker and were much more effective in attack, culminating in Gustavo Blanco Leschuk’s volley bringing out a full-length save from Daniel Giménez.
However, by this stage the clock was starting to tick and the odds of a comeback were getting longer. So when Munir let a routine shot from Álex Bergantinos slip through his hands in the 82nd minute, the faint hope Malaga had of a comeback was extinguished.
Despite the keeper’s obvious upset, the home crowd gave the Moroccan a standing ovation following the game as everyone inside the ground contemplated another season in the second division.
There will doubtless be plenty of change between now and the start of next season and the biggest question mark will be over the man in the dugout. “I would like to stay,” said coach Víctor whose contract expires at the end of the month. “I have said it many times but we have to sit down together and talk and see what the project will look like next year and whether they want us to stay.”
Despite a “lack of conviction” on the day, the coach, who oversaw five wins, one draw and three defeats (two of which were in the play-offs) during his brief tenure, said following the game: “The players can leave here with their heads held high. They are an incredible group and the response from the crowd after losing shows that they have the base to be champions.”
“Now we will get together tomorrow, have something to eat, say goodbye and head off on our holidays,” said the coach. After that, the future is not so clear for the Blue and Whites.
Deportivo, meanwhile, will take on Mallorca in the play-off final over two legs for the coveted final spot in La Liga next season.