Dos Santos gives Mallorca hope
Giovanni dos Santos' 93rd minute goal for Real Mallorca against Celta Vigo on Monday night won the game for his team, and may just have set them on course for an unlikely 'miracle' escape from relegation.
Hope of salvation was in short supply around San Moix as an underwhelming game between two poor sides who both looked doomed to La Segunda edged to a close, but former Tottenham attacker Dos Santos pounced to score with almost the very last kick of the game.
Mallorca boss Gregorio Manzano accepted a reporter's suggestion after the game that those who had remained to the end inside the stadium had witnessed something bordering on the religious.
"If there are miracles then that was one," Manzano said. "In football sometimes things happen like tonight. There are some lovely and beautiful stories. One side leaves smiling, the other leaves sad. But we kept looking for the goal right up to the last minute and our prize came."
Mallorca - and Manzano - had needed something. The 57-year-old had returned for a third spell in charge of the club in early February, with the team having taken just six points from their last 17 games under former boss Joaquin Caparros. The hoped-for bounce did not really happen. Last week's 5-0 humbling at Barcelona, combined with Deportivo la Coruna's resurgence, left them rock-bottom of the table and Manzano scrambling for creative solutions.
The week's papers on the island were full of similar concern at the situation, and the players were reminded exactly what was at stake against fellow bottom-feeders Celta. "If we do not win, we are fried," said midfielder Fernando Tissone on Friday. Manzano's line was similar at Saturday's pre-game press conference - "Everything is on the line."
The much-travelled coach, who never played professional football but has a degree in psychology, invited locally-born Beijing 2008 Paralympics swimming gold medallist Xavi Torres to training last week. Torres, who has suffered amputations on all four limbs, shared his experiences of overcoming adversity to triumph.
The team news was not so positive for Mallorca, with Victor Casadesus unavailable, so the out-of-form Tomer Hemed started up front. There was also a new centre-back pairing, with Manzano pairing Brazilian Geromel and Pedro Bigas, as he looked to improve a defence which had conceded 63 goals in 26 games without a clean sheet. Scottish right-back Alan Hutton, who has impressed at Mallorca despite the team's dodgy results, started his ninth game since joining on-loan from Aston Villa in January.
15,000 red plastic flags, provided by local company Perez Recycling to help boost the mood inside the ground, fluttered as the teams took to the pitch. Despite the - TV mandated - awkward 9pm kick-off on a Monday, an almost season-topping attendance of 18,290 were present to witness pre-match entertainment including a traditional song and dance routine from fans dressed in medieval Mallorquin costumes.
There was less drama about the game's opening stages, with both sides looking unsurprisingly low on confidence and moves often breaking down or just fizzling out. It was a pattern set to continue for the first 92 minutes of the game.
You could see why Mallorca's defence has struggled lately as twice in the opening stages a huge hole opened up where Geromel and Bigas were supposed to be, but Celta could not take advantage. Visiting midfielder Alex Lopez fired his first chance wildly wide and a few minutes later was inches away from converting a clever Mario Bermejo cross.
At the other end Dos Santos, who started well after his €1 million move from Tottenham last summer but has gone a little off the boil recently, was the focus of most of the home fans' hopes. One curling 30-yard free kick brought a flying stop from Celta keeper Javi Varas, and a couple of well struck corners were met by winger Alfaro and centre-back Bigas, but neither effort hit the target and half time arrived goalless.
Manzano claimed, a little unbelievably, that his team's lack of cutting edge up front was down to their concern at not leaking more goals at the back.
"It was not fear, but the team wanted more defensive security," he said. "You can win or lose a game in a second. We had a balance between our attack and defence."
Even with top scorer Iago Aspas suspended Celta probably had more individual quality on show, and they began the second half as if having been told by Resino that the game was there for the taking. Danish winger Michael Krohn-Dehli's clipped cross deserved better than Jonathan Vila's wayward near-post header. More awful home defending saw Geromel completely miss a right-wing cross but Hutton - just about - saved the situation at the back post.
The Scottish full-back was in action at other end too - heading a corner goalwards, and putting in a few teasing crosses, but Hemed showed little up front. The Israeli scored seven goals in his first 12 games this season, but has just one since. One flashing volley aside, he never looked likely to add to that.
In truth neither team looked likely to score, not if they played all night, and any hope of a winner seemed gone when winger Alfaro fluffed a straightforward one-on-one with Varas. But then in the third of three added minutes Hemed headed a Tomas Pina cross goalwards, the visiting keeper could only parry, and Dos Santos was on the spot to thrash the ball gleefully home.
Celta only had time to tip-off and referee Jesus Gil Manzano blew for full time.
"That is very tough to take," a thunder-faced Resino said afterwards. "We did not deserve to lose like that. A point would have been fair, that was unfair."
He was right, but that will be little consolation to Celta, who are now bottom, four points from safety, having taken just one from their last six games. Dos Santos goal seems the nail in the Galicians' coffin, but has given unexpected life to his own side's hopes of escaping the drop. With Granada and Zaragoza in freefall, Mallorca can now exit the relegation zone if they beat Rayo Vallecano in their next home game at home to Rayo Vallecano on Friday.
'Mallorca belongs in La Primera' sang the home fans, more in defiance than faith, as time had been running out. It did seem their 16 season spell at the top flight was almost up, but 'two saints' late, late winner changed everything. Sometimes, in football, miracles do happen.