As has often been the case so far this season, this was a game where only the three points were enough. Fortunately, this time we got a vitally important win. One which, for now, gives us breathing space in the fight at the bottom of the table. The victory was secured largely thanks to the returning Youssef En-Nesyri, our Moroccan striker bagging a clinical brace which put us ahead on two separate occasions in the first half on his comeback appearance following Africa Cup of Nations elimination in the Ivory Coast. His two goals sandwiched an equaliser from the hosts’ talisman Isi Palazón, who levelled the scores with a deflected effort that left Ørjan Nyland with no chance. In the second period, we were forced to withstand home pressure but also continued to carry our own threat going forward, Lucas Ocampos hitting the post with a shot across goal when presented with a chance to wrap up the victory in the closing stages. But, despite having to dig in until the 96th minute, the final whistle signalled what could turn out to be a crucial win in the wider context of this league campaign, putting us three points clear of the relegation zone.
In a cagey opening to the match, both sides were clearly keen to give nothing away; we showed signs of life but struggled to create clear chances in the final third while Rayo were restricted to a single chance that arrived after Marcao miscontrolled the ball. In a first outing for a strike duo of En-Nesyri and Isaac Romero, originally brought in to replace the former while he was away on international duty, the academy product looked for his fellow forward at every opportunity; however first Stole Dimitrievski and then Aridane made timely interventions. Shortly after, the Rayo centre-back was left stranded as our attacking pair bore down on goal and, this time, he could do nothing about it. Isaac found En-Nesyri who duly slotted past the home goalkeeper with a cool finish to open the scoring with 19 minutes gone. Our celebrations were short-lived, however, as Rayo went up the other end and levelled proceedings. Ocampos put a dangerous Iván Balliou effort behind for a corner but, from the Alfonso Espino cross that followed, nothing could be done, as Isi got ahead of Marcos Acuña to send a dipping effort over Nyland via a deflection.
Our Moroccan striker put us ahead on two separate occasions
The link up play up front could have once again borne fruit when Agoumé flicked the ball onto Isaac who crossed to the far post but En-Nesyri's shot was blocked at close range by Dmitrievski. Half-time was approaching, and Isi had a chance to make it 2-1 from a free-kick, but Nyland caught the ball and launched it long to Ocampos on the wing, who headed it to Isaac. Isaac found En-Nesyri who finished past the Rayo goalkeeper to give us a 2-1 lead at half time. At the start of the second half, Chavarria has a good chance with a header that drifted over Nylaand’s goal. Two minutes later, the Norwegian saved another dangerous shot from Isi with his shoulder.
Quique refreshened things up by introducing Hormigo, Óliver, Pedrosa and Juanlu. We continued to keep out Rayo chances, with Badé and Marcao showing particular resolve. We almost wrapped things up when Ocampos put through Óliver, who headed the ball, which crashed against the post. Earlier, Isaac had a chance that went just wide of the post. In the end, the injured Agoumé was replaced by Hannibal as Rayo chased a point, but ultimately could not do anything stop all the three heading back to Andalusia. We now head back home to prepare for our tough matchup with Atlético de Madrid on Sunday.