El Centrocampista

Sporting fight for their lives as the relegation battle hots up


What can be described as a frustrating draw for Athletic Club on Sunday can on the other hand, be described as an important point in Sporting Gijon’s fight for survival in La Liga.

Alberto Lora’s 90th-minute strike to cancel out Oscar de Marcos’ opener moved Sporting back level on points with the other two relegation candidates with nine games remaining in the season. However, with Granada still six points clear of the relegation zone, a tough run in awaits all clubs in the bottom three.

Javier Clemente’s Sporting began Sunday’s game at San Mames in positive fashion and Adrian Colunga troubled Gorka Iraizoz with a free kick early on before Fernando Llorente missed a glorious opportunity for the hosts.

However the game looked to be slipping way from the visitors when Athletic were awarded a penalty on 31 minutes after Alberto Botía fouled Fernando Llorente. Fortunately for los Rojiblancos, Iker Muniain’s poor effort to the keeper’s left hand side was saved. Muniain did eventually net for Athletic with a nice finish on the turn, but he was ruled offside by the linesman. His dismal first half display was compounded after he missed a very good chance as a result of some good passing play from Bilbao.

After more missed opportunities Athletic finally opened the scoring when Muniain made amends for his missed penalty, passing through to Oscar de Marcos who finished the move with a powerful shot. However, de Marcos’s goal wasn’t to be decisive as Lora stepped up at the death to fire a deflected shot home from inside the 18-yard box to give Sporting a much-needed point.

In his post-match press conference, Sporting boss Javier Clemente said he felt his players played very well against a difficult opponent and that his team lacked the little bit of luck they needed to obtain three points. On reflection, the wily old Clemente probably had a point (no pun intended). Sporting fans will hope the recent appointment of the experienced Clemente will go on to further bolster the team’s chances of survival in La Liga with nine games left in the campaign.

Next up for los Rojiblancos is a relegation six pointer at el Molinon to a resurgent Real Zaragoza. The reverse fixture in November ended in a 2-2 draw so both sides will be hoping for a vital three points next Saturday to kickstart the final run-in. The Aragon side have now won two consecutive games and have clawed themselves back from an almost impossible situation at the bottom.

On paper, Sporting would appear to have the toughest run-in of the bottom three, with only four of the remaining nine games against opposition outside the top 10. The visit of Levante, who are fifth, and a final trip away to four-placed Malaga could prove critical games for Sporting and the prospect of an encounter between teams battling for Champions League qualification and La Liga survival should excite neutrals and shorten the fingernails of fans of either side alike.

Sporting also face the daunting prospect of travelling to the Santiago Bernabeu a week before el clásico. Surely it will be a game in which Real Madrid will want to dominate their opponents and send a message to Guardiola’s Barcelona.

With only two wins since the turn of the year and one win from their last six games, this season is proving difficult for los Rojiblancos and a return to la Segunda after a four-year stay in the top-flight is looking a distinct possibility. However, the battling draw against Athletic at the weekend gave some evidence that Sporting’s fate isn’t sealed just yet.

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