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Mar 16, 2013

Pendulum swings in Depor's favour

Deportivo La Coruna may still be bottom of the Primera Division, but belief in an unlikely relegation escape was flowing inside Riazor after Friday's night's crushing 3-1 Galician derby win over local rivals Celta Vigo.

Depor's first half went like a dream, with Riki opening the scoring early and Celta's main dangerman Iago Aspas soon sabotaging his own team's chances of a comeback with a crazy sending-off.

The home side's second period was not bad either, with Silvio and Salomao scoring excellent goals to put the game beyond Celta, and to maybe, just maybe, turn around a season which had been heading for disaster.

Depor are still six points behind 17th-placed Real Zaragoza, but coach Fernando Vazquez said such an emotional win - his first in five games in charge - could fuel an upturn in their fortunes.

"It is such an important victory," Vazquez said. "I said during the week, we were out of petrol. Now we have filled up. We played a very good game, and our fans are going home happy."

Less happy were Celta's supporters, for whom on-loan Arsenal attacker Park Chu-Young's late neatly taken goal was no consolation. Their team had shown just why they are now up to their necks in the relegation mire – lots of nice passing in midfield, but little cutting edge up front and plenty of holes at the back.

Celta boss Abel Resino said pretty much everything had gone against his team on the night.

"I would say this was not a night for Celta, it was a night for Depor," said Resino. "Lots of things in the game went their way. The early goal and sending-off conditioned it completely."

Both sides had been tense before the game. On Friday morning Galician sports paper dxt called it "the most dramatic and agonising derby" for years. 20th against 19th, with both teams in awful form recently. Not just three points and local pride was at stake, said the paper, but [almost] life itself.

That's because relegation could bring doom for Depor. Pre-game the chants ringing around the streets [and beach] near Riazor were directed at long-serving president Augusto Cesar Lendoiro as well as Celta.

Lendoiro's 35-year reign has brought early glory with Depor's first La Liga and Copa del Rey trophies, but is now close to ending with the club over €150 million in debt, and in administration under Spain's 'Ley Concursal'. It is difficult to see him - or the club - bouncing back from a second relegation in three seasons.

The blanquiazuls lined up in Vazquez's preferred brave but previously unsuccessful attacking shape. Juan Carlos Valeron, 37, likely in his last derby, had a free role behind fit-again top scorer Riki. Less happily for the home fans, Depor's teamsheet showed their reliance on super-agent Jorge Mendes, with Portuguese players [5] easily outnumbering Galicians [2] in the squad of 18.

900 or so Celta supporters made the 130 km journey up the coast, and their confident chants were ringing around an otherwise empty ground more than an hour before kick-off. Their team - who have had to rely on youth after coming through Ley Concursal reconstruction in recent years - had four Vigueses in the starting XI.

One of these local boys was Aspas, who talked unwisely in the build-up about his hopes of helping to send Depor down to La Segunda. Once the game began he looked eager to make an impact. He would, but not quite as he had hoped.

The visitors' surprisingly attacking XI started well, with Aspas and strike partner Mario Bermejo linking well, but Depor opened the scoring from their first real chance on eight minutes. Valeron scooped a lovely first time pass in to Riki, who controlled on his thigh, swivelled and volleyed to the net from 12 yards. Riazor was rocking and Obama-inspired 'Yes we can' chants rang out.

The visitors took a while to settle again, but bit by bit got a hold of midfield, with Croatian international Daniel Pranjic and veteran Borja Oubina pulling the strings. Pranjic's 30 yard free kick whistled just over, and Bermejo headed a corner narrowly wide.

Given Depor's rocky confidence and creaking defence the feeling was Celta just had to keep cool, keep probing, and a goal would come. Instead Aspas lost it completely on 29 minutes, aiming a headbutt at Depor defender Carlos Marchena while both were on ground after challenging for the ball. Ref Carlos Velasco Carballo flashed a red card, and 34,000 home fans cheered the 25-year-old off the pitch.

Both Resino and Vazquez claimed not to have seen the incident, but Vazquez admitted it had been a key moment.

"Of course, we scored early, which was so important for the team," he said. "And then they were down to ten. Celta's problems multiplied. It made our victory easier."

Celta still had more of the ball, but few chances before half-time. After the break Valeron came to the fore, using his clever passing to pull the ten men around. Riki spurned two chances in a minute, but 2-0 was coming.

It arrived from an unexpected source. Even when the ball sat up nicely for full-back Silvio 35 yards out nobody expected him to shoot. He caught the right-foot volley perfectly, and it sailed into the top corner of Varas' net.

Vazquez soon took off tired first goalscorer Riki and sent on pacy substitute Salomao. And almost immediately the Portuguese youngster raced clear onto a straight ball over the top and rounded Varas for number three.

Valeron was withdrawn to a standing ovation from the delighted home support, and at the final whistle nobody inside the ground was thinking of Lendoiro's mismanagement or the club's debts. They were looking towards winnable games coming up at 18th-placed Real Mallorca and at home to Zaragoza.

"The team is very united and solid," Vazquez said. "This is great news for us. And the fans were extraordinary, sensational. It was a dream game for them. With everyone united we can achieve something big."

Resino did his best to sound as positive, saying this was just a bad night for his team. But nobody was buying it. A lengthy ban for Aspas, who has either scored or assisted in 16 of their 26 goals in La Liga so far, looks likely.

With or without him, Resino said his side needed to pick themselves up from this, and quickly, with a difficult string of fixtures to come.

"We will have other opportunities," he said. "We know we have a difficult calendar, with Barcelona next. But we must keep going. In football, when you are most down, is when you must lift yourself up."

Galicia's two teams started the weekend 20th and 19th and will finish it that way too. Both have just ten games left to avoid the drop. Depor are coming from behind, but the momentum is with them.

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