Elche CF 2 – 0 Real Valladolid CF
By Kevin Rendall
Two goals, both deft headers from an unlikely source, secured all three points for Elche as they overcame an old rival with relative ease. Real Valladolid was the rival and midfielder Álex Fernández the conquering hero who, overnight on Saturday at least, put Elche within touching distance of the play-off places.
Less than seven thousand bothered to turn up, thanks in large part to the nonsensical 1pm kick-off time. Those that made the effort were quickly rewarded for their loyalty when, with just three minutes gone, Pablo Hervías sent in a right-footed cross from the left flank. Álex Fernández, who usually patrols the area just in front of the back four, was on hand to rise between two visiting defenders to glance the ball adroitly beyond Becerra in the Valladolid goal.
Thereafter, and for much of the rest of the first half, it seemed to be a case of dead-legs and dead-ends. Two or three times Elche players were left on the turf following robust, shall we say, challenges by Vallisoletano defenders or midfielders. Javier Matilla, who needed a lengthy spell of treatment, will definitely wake up sore this morning thanks to one particularly stiff – and unpunished – challenge. Those that survived the attempted maimings quickly ran into cul-de-sacs in their attempts to create meaningful Elche attacks. Half time 1-0.
Somehow, and despite the loss of last season’s Pichici Sergio León, Elche are joint top-scorers in the division. There is something about this group of players who, when they’re collectively in the mood, always look likely to create something. The difference between this season and last, when the principal objective of coach Rubén Baraja was not to lose, is stark. Thus far twelve different players have made the scoresheet just fourteen games in.
Too often decent looking approach play was let down by a wayward pass; it’s not a lot of good trying to be Barcelona before you’ve got the hang of being Elche. Give Elche, and coach Alberto Toril in particular, credit, though, they definitely seem to want to play the game the right way. Any second half possession stats might have been interesting, Valladolid seemed to have an awful lot of the ball and only smart saves by Juan Carlos kept them at bay just long enough for Elche to protect and then double their lead.
There may have been a element of good fortune with the second goal – goalkeeper Becerra should have done more to prevent it – but there was nothing lacking in the technique of Álex Fernández. An Edu Albacar corner found its way back to the left-back whose sweet delivery into the box a second time found Fernández perfecly placed. He wears number 9 on his shirt and he rose like an old fashioned centre-forward to plant a powerful header goalwards whereupon Becerra, seemingly unsure whether to punch or catch, did neither and simply helped the ball on its way.
Today, a couple nil was just about the right result, Elche made most of the running, played most of the attractive football and looked assured at the back. For their part, Valladolid were disappointing and probably didn’t even do enough to earn a point. Next week Elche travel to struggling Almería for a Friday night kick-off, they’ll be hoping victory this weekend signals the end of their pattern of inconsistent results and the start of a decent run. Time will tell.