Malaga's early season form returned at Montilivi on Tuesday night as they battled to pick up a valuable win on the road against Girona.
The Blue and Whites allowed their hosts to have very few opportunities and made them pay with a superb header from Alberto Escassi which proved to be enough to seal all three points.
Despite making seven changes to the starting line-up, the Blue and Whites looked accomplished on the field with the midfield pairing of Luis Muñoz and Mohamed Benkhemassa (back from suspension) limiting space between the lines for Samu Saiz to wreak havoc, and closing off the channels in which Bárcenas and Pablo Moreno like to operate.
Barring one moment of overconfidence from Josua Mejías, Malaga were perfect in defence during the first half. The only real chance for the hosts came through Sylla who brought a top-class save out of Dani Barrio when he looked certain to score.
This came as an almost immediate reponse to Escassi giving his side the lead. The big defender leapt highest in the 33rd minute to power home Yanis Rahmani’s corner kick - the Frenchman’s second assist of the week, both from set pieces.
With Escassi going off injured at half time, Malaga were marginally less secure at the back and Monchu should have equalised but instead badly misplaced his header from Yoel Bárcenas’ inch-perfect cross.
At the other end, Luis Muñoz could have settled the tie when he went clean through on goal thanks to a lucky break, but his powerful effort came back out off the crossbar.
With Ramón on the field in place of Benkhemassa, who had picked up a booking, Malaga were able to enjoy longer spells of possession and stifle Girona’s momentum.
Fresh legs in the form of Iván Calero and Caye Quintana with 15 minutes to go also gave the visitors another dimension, forcing Girona not to overcommit for fear of conceding another on the counter-attack.
And it worked. The win, their fourth on the road this season (the second best record in the league), lifted them up to six place.
With Sergio Pellicer serving the last of his two-game touchline ban following his sending off against Ponferradina on 15 November, stand-in coach Manolo Sánchez said in his post-match press conference: "I'm so proud of the players. They showed that they were a team. They all play a part and that's the best possible scenario."
Sánchez applauded the adaptability of the players too, repeating that he was "proud" that they could play so well after making seven changes, as well as responding positively to changes during the game. "We also have to applaud how we defended a lot of very good crosses into the box. It's not easy."
Malaga currently have 21 points to their name, just one short of the total for the whole first half of the season last year.
"We've gained another three points, that's all it means. Of course we're ambitious but we have to be careful not to set ourselves goals that are too ambitious. First we must secure safety, then take it a game at a tie," he concluded.