Monday, 8 May 2023, 06:51
Barring a miracle, Malaga CF will be playing in the third tier of Spanish football next season. A 0-2 defeat to fellow strugglers Ponferradina on Sunday afternoon all-but confirmed their relegation from Segunda.
The loss, inflicted by two second-half goals, is surely the final nail in the coffin for the Blue and Whites, who are now eight points from safety with only three games left to play.
The team, backed by more than 600 fans who made the 2,000-kilometre round trip to León, knew that only a win would suffice and started the game on the front foot.
But in a low-key first half, there were very few chances for the visitors. Rubén Castro had his low strike from a tight angle saved well by Miguel San Román in the 17th minute, before Alberto Escassi fired the rebound over the bar.
Minutes later, Lago Junior smashed his effort into the side netting.
As has been customary during the second spell of Sergio Pellicer in the dug-out, the extra defender was sacrificed at half time. This time, explosive winger Álex Calvo was thrown into the frey as Malaga went in search of the opening goal.
The 19-year-old indeed came close. His curled left-footed shot from the edge of the box seemed bound for the top corner until San Román threw out his hand to tip the ball over.
With the minutes ticking, it soon became a case of all or nothing for Malaga - and it cost them.
In the 76th minute, Ponferradina took advantage of a clear counter-attacking opportunity, as Yuri powered through unopposed into the Malaga area before tucking the ball into the corner of the net.
And the chances kept coming for the hosts. Escassi was called upon to clear Naim García's effort off the line after he got the better of keeper Rubén Yáñez, but both were powerless to stop Ponferradina's second. With five minutes left on the clock, Yuri was sent through on goal and made no mistake, tucking the ball coolly beyond Yáñez.
"This is a hard moment," said head coach Pellicer after the game. "We had started generating a lot of hope but we've been living on the edge for a few weeks and today just wasn't our day."
While mathematically not relegated yet, Malaga (40 points) only have three games left (Mirandés at home, Alavés away and Ibiza at home) to close an eight-point gap on any one of Sporting Gijón, Huesca and Racing Santander (all on 48 points).
Therefore, to stand any chance of remaining in the division, Malaga must win all three of their remaining fixtures and hope that one of these sides fails to register a single point from theirs.
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