El Centrocampista

Until the Bitter End – Sporting slip away as Clemente falls short

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Sporting Gijón were finally relegated on Sunday as Salomon Rondón headed the only goal of the game against Uefa Champions League qualifiers Malaga at La Rosaleda.

A sad day indeed for Javier Clemente’s side, however the end came only after the Asturians had carried the fight to final game of the season – in turn ensuring they contributed to one of the most dramatic relegation battles of recent times.

Despite being in contention for survival until the last day of the season, you could argue the 1-0 defeat at the hands of the Andaluz side summed up Sporting’s season. Disappointing. In a game they needed to win before even looking to other results for help, los Rojiblancos managed just one shot on target all night.

There were times of late, such as the 3-2 win against Levante in which Sporting came from behind twice to snatch a win, the 2-1 victory over Rayo Vallecano and the 3-0 drubbing of Espanyol, where fans could have been forgiven for feeling optimistic about their chances of salvation, however it was not to be.

In the games that truly mattered, the 2-1 home defeat to Zaragoza, the 3-2 loss (again, at home) against Villarreal and the game on Sunday, Sporting failed to produce.

Clemente signalled out his belief that the loss against Zaragoza was vital, and claimed if things had been different at El Molinón that day, Sporting just might have survived.

Under three different coaches, Sporting still could nt find the right formula for survival.

However, that did not stop the supporters believing that their team could survive. Roughly 620 miles separate El Molinón and La Rosaleda, and still there were Sporting fans in full voice, holding banners reading ‘You’ll never walk alone’. Days before the encounter against Real Betis, Gijon was covered in catchphrases such as: ‘Always Sporting’ and ‘We will never leave you’.

Players and coaching staff alike have often taken to pre and post-match press conferences to air their gratitude for Los Sportinguistas, the fans that will no doubt remain with the club through relegation to La Segunda, and maybe a return to La Liga, if things go their way.

 

The good

The fans – As mentioned above, Sporting have one of the best fan bases in Spain. More than 200 travelled to the south of Spain for Sunday’s game against Malaga and although they were battling relegation week in, week out, El Molinón was sold out more often than not.

Resilience – Although their chances grew slimmer and slimmer, Sporting held on until the last day of La Liga as one of five teams in contention for survival. Although the final game was a damp squib, it says a lot that they survived until week 38, battling out some good results to keep their hopes alive.

Javier Clemente – Opinions will surely be divided on this one. However, aside from the defeats to Villarreal and Malaga, Clemente had Sporting playing well. The usually defensive-minded coach fielded attacking teams, playing a 4-3-3 formation. The only thing letting down his philosophy was the absence, maybe by fault of Clemente, of an out and out goalscorer. David Barral, despite scoring plenty of away goals this season, was omitted from the squad regularly.
 

The Bad

Goal difference – Only Rayo conceded more goals than Sporting this term, and they didn’t exactly score many goals of their own either. They only outscored five other teams in their fight for survival.

Lack of a fortress – Out of the 19 game at home, Sporting won only eight, conceding 26 goals in the process at El Molinón. Simply not good enough for a team hoping to remain in the top flight of any league.

Away form – Sporting won just three games on the road this season, making them the second least productive away side in la liga – bettering only basement side Racing.

Overall, no side can consider relegation to be a good season, it is the complete antithesis of what footballers, football teams and fans aim for. However, there are always positives.

If Sportibg can hang on to vital players such as Barral, Alberto Lora and De Las Cuevas, while continuing to instil the positive, attacking style employed by Clemente, Sporting might return to La Liga sooner than you think.




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