El Centrocampista

Table toppers Elche set to end two decades of mediocrity

Fans of Elche CF have been waiting a long time to see their team play top flight football. 24 years to be precise. However, this season under coach Fran Escribá the Valencian outfit look set to finally end that long wait.

They have come close in recent years, not least during  2010/11 season when José Bordalás guided them to a play-off spot  before they were eventually beaten to promotion by Granada, however, there has been little else to cheer.

A lacklustre mid-table finish last term gave little indication of what was to come from the Franjiverde and Bordalás eventually left for on Alcorcon before Escribá was unveiled as his permanent successor in June.

And it is under the former assistant coach of Atletico Madrid that Elche have taken la Segunda by storm, marching into an eleven point lead over second-placed Girona and looking dead certs to bring first division football back to their Estadio Martinez Valero for only the third time in 35 years.

Elche have been here before, enjoying a golden age during the sixties and seventies when they spent 17 seasons in the top tier of Spanish football. They also reached their only ever  Copa del Rey final in 1969 where they were beaten by Athletic Bilbao. Things have been far less successful in recent times.

The club suffered humiliation during the early nineties when they dropped into the regional leagues of la Segunda B for the first time in their history, and subsequently teetered on the verge of financial collapse for much of the decade.

Redemption came slowly however, and they have been a permanent fixture in the second division since 1999 –  even coming close to a triumphant return to la Primera on a couple of occasions.

This season feels different however. Elche strengthened well, if unspectacular during the summer, although it could still be said  Bordalás has crafted a side that has performed greater than the sum of its parts.

Photo: EFE

Photo: EFE

Eight players have already found themselves on the scoresheet this term, with former Rayo Vallecano defender Edu Albacar an unlikely top scorer in the side having struck six goals – already one better than his haul from the whole of last season.

While Elche had an over-reliance on the goalscoring of Angel and Nickie Bille last term, this year has seen the responsibilities shared out – and it is already providing dividend.

Bordalás was blighted by a lack of goals from midfielder last year, with the diminutive Jordi Xumetra providing the only real threat behind the forward line. This term sees much more creativity in the middle of the pitch.

Valencia youngster Carles Gil has been brought in on a season-long loan from the Mestalla and has already struck three times, while fellow new boy Fidel – brought in from Recreativo de Huelva, is already having his most prolific season to date with four goals.

In truth, the goals had to come from elsewhere as both Angel and Bille departed the club during the summer. The former made the short trip north to join Levante while the latter is now a permanent fixture for Norwegian club Rosenburg after spending a brief loan spell at Rayo Vallecano from parent club Villarreal.

Having lost the influential duo, Elche’s current position is ever more impressive. President José Sepulcre and his board must take credit for some inspired business dealings during the summer, especially the astute signings of reinforcements such as Ferrán ‘Coro’ Corominas and Berry Powell.

Now 30-years-old, Coro came through the youth system at Espanyol and played over 150 games for the senior side before being sent out on loan, first to Osasuna and then Girona.

Capped by his country at under 17, under 19 and under 20 level, the right-sided forward impressed for Girona last term, scoring an 18 league goals, so it was with some surprise that he ended up at Elche – signing a two-year contract at the club in June.

Joining Coro at Elche during the summer was former Millwall striker Berry Powell. The Dutchman has had what can only be described as an ‘interesting’ career – with a number of off-field misdemeanour’s curtailing his time at more than one club. However, the 32-year-old is vastly experienced and can trouble the best of defences on his day.

The main contributor to Elche’s impressive form this season, however,  is a miserly defence that has been breached just 11 times in the 21 games they have played.

Veteran Sergio Pellegrin and former Cartegena defender Xabier Etxeita have created a solid centre back pairing, while Uruguayan right back Damian Suarez has also been in impressive form since arriving from recently relegated Sporting Gijon.

Add to this mix an imperious home record of ten straight victories and it is little wonder that Elche are now runaway favourites to not only clinch promotion but also return back to the top flight as champions.

The club would make a welcome addition to the Primera Division as well. Despite currently only half filling their Martinez Valero home, the fan-base available to Elche should they go up would see crowds increase – creating a fantastic atmosphere at the 38,750 stadium.

It may have been over two decades since fans of Elche last tasted the excitement of top flight football, yet barring a catastrophe of biblical proportions, that is where they will be next season. Heaven knows they are certainly ready for it.


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