Sunday, 16 April 2023, 22:06
They did it the hard way, but Malaga CF survived a late scare to record their second straight win as play-off chasing Cartagena came to town this Sunday evening, 16 April.
Buoyed by their side’s 2-1 away win to Villarreal B last week, La Rosaleda stadium was sold out with over 25,000 Malaguistas making their presence felt from the first minute, sending an emphatic message, “¡Sí se puede!” (Yes we can!)
But despite the enthusiasm from the crowd, the hosts looked rather overawed by the occasion and made a disjointed start to game.
However, Pablo Chavarría, in particular, looked in the mood. Playing the role of battering ram off the left flank, most of Malaga’s best attacking play in the opening 20 minutes came through the Argentinian, who pinned Cartagena full-back and former Malaga man Iván Calero back in his own half.
Naturally, then, it was down this avenue that the opening goal arrived. Fran Villalba’s deep ball from the right was kept alive at the back post by Cristian, who smashed the ball across the face of goal for Chavarría to bundle over the line.
Malaga remained on the front foot and created two half chances for Rubén Castro, the second of which brought a smart save low to his left from another former Malaga man, keeper Aarón.
However, Cartagena started to find their way back into the game and should have levelled the scores when Francisco Feuillassier headed Pablo de Blasis’ deep cross over the bar from close range when it seemed easier to score.
The hosts then earned another reprieve just before half time when centre-back Esteban Burgos deliberately handled the ball to stop De Blasis from going through on goal, only to receive a yellow card - to the complete disbelief of the Cartagena bench.
With their slender first-half lead, the tension started to get to Malaga in the second half as they became increasingly careless on the ball, ceding possession in dangerous areas far too easily.
Cartagena carved out a clear chance in the 66th minute, when Jonas Ramalho (a half-time substitute for Burgos, seemingly a tacit acceptance he should have been sent off) gave the ball away before making amends with a superb block to deny Darío Poveda’s goal-bound volley from inside the penalty area.
That said, after Pepe had a long shot smothered by Rubén Yáñez, Malaga seemed to be riding the storm, wasting time to good effect (substitute keeper Manolo Reina received a red card for throwing a second ball onto the pitch).
That was the case until deep into stoppage time, when the most dramatic moment of the game arrived. As Alberto Escassi handled the ball in the Malaga penalty area, the referee pointed to the penalty spot. His linesman, meanwhile, flagged for offside.
Pandemonium erupted both on the field and off it as the decision went to the VAR. After several moments of enormous tension, the VAR found that Toni Datković was indeed offside and everyone inside La Rosaleda could breathe a huge sigh of relief.
It’s now two wins in a row for Malaga who are five points from safety with six games left to play.
Next up is another must-win game away at bottom side Lugo on Sunday (2pm kick-off).
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