Twenty-four years to the day after his debut as a player for the club, Malaga’s interim coach Sergio Pellicer got off to the best possible start with a narrow 1-0 win over Ponferradina.
Tuesday’s was not a vintage performance by any means, but it will not matter one bit to the Valencian. While the last few minutes were edgy, the victory was ultimately deserved; Ponferradina’s only real chance came with seconds left on the clock, and still ended in a relatively routine save for Munir.
Malaga made the perfect start to the match when Juanpi cut inside onto his left foot and saw his shot deflected high into the air; an alert Antoñín was waiting in the box and was able to volley the ball to the keeper’s right.
There was little to cheer in the rest of the first half, other than when Juankar came agonisingly close to a goal-of-the-seasoncontender. His acrobatic volleyed effort from Dani Pacheco’s corner crashed off the crossbar.
The lack of real excitement may have been something to do with the fact that almost all of the fans from the Fondo Sur, the noisiest part of the stadium, were outside protesting the dismissal of Víctor Sánchez del Amo, the Malaga coach fired after an explicit video of him went viral.
Fans stream in after protest
These fans injected a little more enthusiasm into the crowd on their entry around 40 minutes into the encounter. There were sporadic outbursts of support for Víctor, but the clearest chants, as is always the case these days, were those directed against the club president, Sheikh Al-Thani.
This decibel rise did not, however, give much of a boost to Malaga’s play; the home side spurned countless chances on the counter, with heavy touches or misjudged final balls all too common. Antoñín, the goalscorer, was a notable culprit. But Ponferradina showed just as little guile and intensity in the second half as they did in the first, meaning Malaga’s job was fairly straightforward after they had gone ahead on the scoresheet.
The tension was palpable in the last few minutes, Malaga fans perhaps remembering Lugo’s last-minute equaliser in the last game at La Rosaleda, but the best the visitors could manage was an effort sent straight at the keeper from Eibar loanee Asier Benito. The final whistle was greeted by a roar from the home support. No doubt, Malaga are far from out of the woods yet, and the club’s institutional crisis rolls on. But these were a vital three points, and Pellicer won’t have minded how his side earned them.
Pellicer tight-lipped on long-term future
Speaking after the game, the interim coach was full of praise for his side. “We started very well, and we were confident. I’m really pleased for the players, because they gave it their all. It’s a victory and three points which will help us and make us believe.”
He refused to be drawn on whether his appointment might be made a permanent one, insisting, “The club only made me interim manager. We’ve got to think about Friday’s opponent, a Fuenlabrada side having a great season.”
Pellicer’s counterpart, Bolo, was understandably somewhat less sanguine. “Today was our worst match all season and I take full responsibility. What happened today definitely won’t happen again.” He found time to join the chorus of support for Víctor, however: “All I can say is I send him my best wishes. It’s totally unfair for him to lose his job for this kind of reason. He’ll pick himself up and keep showing that he’s a great coach.”
With 26 points won, Malaga are now four points clear of the relegation zone; however, since all the clubs behind them have a game in hand, this advantage could be cut when the rest of the midweek fixtures are played. Friday’s opponents Fuenlabrada occupy fifth spot in the table, and will no doubt be a sterner test than Ponferradina.