Monday, August 23, 2010

Can Hercules do it?

As Elche wound down their campaign with a defeat on the road and a last day victory, rivals Hercules ended their own home campaign with a nervous looking victory in front of a massive crowd numbering twenty seven thousand. Their opponents were Madrid based Rayo Vallecano, who with nothing to play for, could easily have put a gigantic spanner in Hercules' works.

Hercules fans celebrate at a packed Rico Perez
A goal-less first half belied the Hercules dominance, try as they might, the Rayo back four held firm and at times rode their luck, especially after fifteen minutes when a decent penalty shout for a foul on Tiago Gomes was turned down by Canaries referee Hernández Hernández. Inside the first three second half minutes, both sides found themselves on the scoresheet, and it was the visitors who silenced the expectant home support when rthe dangerous Coke fired in a shot from just insidde the box. Hercules immediately responded when Portillo headed home to even things up. In the end the visitors gave it a darned good go and stayed level at one apiece until almost the final whistle. Almost was close but but not quite enough for Rayo because Portillo notched his and Herc's second with less than two minutes remaining.

A brave effort or not by Rayo Vallecano, the delirious local support cared not, a crucial 2-1 victory ensured promotion was still within reach, and, crucially was in their own hands, depending solely on a Hercules win in their final match away to lowly Real Union. Elsewhere on the second last match day of the season, Real Sociedad secured the Segunda A title with a routine two nil home win over Celta Vigo and the only two teams still in with a shout of overtaking Hercules enjoyed mixed fortunes. Levante cruised past already relegated Castellon and Real Betis could only manage a 1-1 draw away at mid table Salamanca, two wasted points which were to prove vital to both Levante and Hercules.

Three weeks into June and a week after the start of The World Cup the season eventually came to a thrilling conclusion and the permutation was simple, two promotion places remained and three clubs were in contention Hercules started game day 42 in second place closely followed by Levante and then Real Betis.
I'm not certain how the fixture computer manages to do it every time, but way back in August 2009 guess which two teams were drawn to play each other in the final games of the season? In the end, Real Betis hammered Levante 4-0 at home and their whole season hinged on the relegated Real Union and Hercules result from the northern city of Irun.

A 0-2 win for Hercules at the smallest ground in the league, watched by four hundred travelling supporters ensured the Alicantinos headed home happy and Real Betis, despite finishing on the same number of points as both Levante and Hercules, finished fourth. Tough on the men from Seville but here's some interesting statistics, the head to head records of the three protagonists

Betis 1 - 1 Hercules      Levante 2 - 1 Hercules      Betis 4 - 0 Levante   
Hercules 3 - 2 Betis     Hercules  2- 1 Levante      Levante 1 - 0 Betis

                                                                                            Goals        Goals
                                   Points Played  Won   Drawn   Lost    For           Against
1 REAL SOCIEDAD  74     42         20      14         8         53             37

2 HERCULES             71     42         19      14        9         61             34

3 LEVANTE               71     42         19      14        9         63             45

The final table looked like this, and, after a nine year gap to their previous adventure in Spanish football's top division, Hercules were back. Or were they?   TO BE CONTINUED

Thursday, August 19, 2010

A couple left and Elche finish their season.

Having given up trying in the dismal home defeat against Murcia, and with that any pretence of quite liking top flight Spanish football. Elche had two further fixtures to endure before dropping the curtain on 2009/10, an away trip to Gimnastic de Taragona (Nastic) and finally hosting Real Sociedad at home in their final game.

Nastic scramble home their opener
Way down near the bottom of the classification, on paper Nastic looked beatable, but, such is the way with clubs scrapping for survival, three points are never a foregone conclusion, especially where Elche CF are concerned. Having blown the opportunity to contend for promotion, our heroes had nothing to play for except pride and the possibility of a few more euros for gaining a place in the final table. Nastic on the other hand were desperate to stay in the division and the way they played it showed. Elche, with something very close to a full strength side, slipped to a disappointing 3-1 defeat by conceding twice, halving the deficit and conceding again five minutes after scoring. Even with these three very welcome points, Nastic still weren't out of the shit and would have to wait another nailbiting week to secure their Segunda A safety.Centre Back Samuel notched the single Elche goal on 73 minutes.

Real Sociedad fans soak up the Elche sun
A week later on a balmy Saturday evening, Elche closed out their season with the visit of Champions elect Real Sociedad from the Basque country. Those that bothered to turn up witnessed a clinical dissection of quite a decent Jorge Molina, the Elche centre-forward who helped himself to all four goals as Elche ran comfortable 4-1 winners. In the process, the six foor three striker from just down the road in Alcoy ended up comfortably the top scorer in the League. A goal to the good at the break, Elche turned on the style in the second half and the sizeable away contingent left disappointed, it mattered not because other results elsewhere fell kindly for them and one of the best supported teams in the league were crowned worthy champions. Full time 4-1

Top scorer Molina
From a fairly dismal start to the 2009/10 season, culminating in the sacking of manager Claudia Barragan after a lifeless performance in the local derby, Elche turned things around and eventually finished in a noteworthy sixth place and ahead of outfits such as Rayo Vallecano and Villarreal B. To put things in perspective, immediately above them sat long term promotion hopefuls Real Betis and Cartagena. On a personal note I've watched the Elche B side for two or three years now, and two younger players stood out  some months ago as being a couple to watch. As the season neared completion both tall lanky midfielder Javi Paños and his one time Elche Ilicitano colleague, blonde centre back Raul, both got games in the first team and didn't remotely look out of place.  Paños especially appears to have a bright future

Final statistics - Elche CF

Played 42 Won 18 Drew 9 Lost 15  Goals for 67  Goals against 57
POINTS 63 - Sixth place