Billed as a game that could catapult our season into silverware-contention, there was a raw sense of anticipation in the build-up to a Copa del Rey quarter-final showdown against Atlético de Madrid.
Atlético, who had seen off city-rivals Real Madrid 4-2 in the Round of 16, were in strong form coming into the match, with strike duo Álvaro Morata and Antoine Griezmann offering plenty of threat up top. Early evidence of this came in the fifth minute, as Morata headed straight at Nyland from a Lino cross. However, our defence was marshalled superbly by Sergio Ramos, our experienced centre-back coming up against a team he has faced in many a crucial clash.
Like against Girona on Sunday, we were bright in the opening exchanges. In the ninth minute, Ramos nearly got on the end of Adrià Pedrosa’s dangerous delivery from out wide and home manager Diego Simeone could already be seen gesticulating from the touchline in his trademark animated fashion. Isaac then proceeded to lash over via a deflection after Ramos found him in the box.
Our front-footed start, however, looked to be in vain when referee Jesús Gil Manzano awarded the hosts a penalty in the 24th minute after Marcao tripped an on-rushing Nahuel Molina in the box. No one in the stadium would have predicted what came next. Up stepped star man Griezmann, face to face with the returning Ørjan Nyland, but the Frenchman slipped at the key moment and sent the ball sailing over. Cue wild celebrations in the away end, where our supporters were already in typical, fine voice.
In possession, we showed intent to get forward with willing runners offering an option on both flanks, whereas, when Atlético had the ball, we reverted to a flat 5-3-2 formation. This shape helped us keep it tight at the back to withstand a sustained period of home pressure towards the end of the first half.
And we began the second period with a similar desire to hassle the home side. Less than a minute after the restart, Ocampos sent Sow through before he was bundled over in a penalty shout that was waved away by Manzano.
With an hour gone, Atlético served up a reminder of their attacking potency when Morata rose highest to head through to Griezmann who smashed a vicious left-footed volley across goal and into the net. Fortunately, he had strayed off-side, but as the game wore on gaps were beginning to appear and, in classic cup-style, the tie became more open. To make this doubly clear, Memphis Depay, only just introduced as a substitute, converted after being sent clean through in the 68th minute. Once more, the offside flag was raised to cut home celebrations short.
Despite this, in the 79th minute, the hosts weren’t to be denied in what proved to be the killer blow
Two home substitutions combined as Joaquín Correa squared for Memphis depay for a tap in to put his side one ahead. This left ten minutes plus added time for us to strike back and keep our cup dream alive. Five minutes later, Ramos had the chance to do so when Ocampos flicked on a corner for the centre-back to fire just over at the back post.
At the death, it seemed we had a lifeline. Winning the ball back high, Lamela had the ball in the box before being taken out by a challenge from behind. Manzano pointed to the same spot for the second time in the night. This time however, replays appeared to show the faintest of feathers on the ball before Lamela went down. It was deemed sufficient contact for the penalty to be overturned on revision. And that was that. We must and will now take great encouragement from a display full of application and an effective game-plan that saw us go toe-to-toe with a top side. Onwards to Osasuna at home on Sunday.