Goals from Vesga and Paredes meant that our first game of the year ended in defeat. Athletic Club struck in both halves on their way to a 2-0 win in what was Quique Sánchez Flores’s first game at the Ramón Sánchez-Pizjuán.
The opening 20 minutes were quiet as the players attempted to adjust to the wet conditions with the rain hammering down from the night sky. Despite periods of possession for both sides, it was the visitors who looked more menacing. Looking to exploit us in the wide regions through Berenguer and Nico Williams, Athletic had the first real chance of the game. Sancet’s pass found Guruzeta on the left-hand side of the box, who shimmied well and cut inside, but his effort from 18 yards was tipped past the far post by a diving Dmitrovic.
Soon after came another chance for the visitors. The wide men combined well as Athletic shifted the ball quickly upfield. Berenguer split our defence with a dangerous pass into the penalty area that left Williams with just the keeper to beat, but, remarkably, he put it wide. A big let off.
However, Athletic’s sustained pressure soon paid off as they took the lead on the half-hour mark. De Galarreta whipped in a cross from the right flank which found Mikel Vesga in acres of space. He made no mistake with the header, going back across Dmitrovic, who stayed rooted to his spot.
More misery came our way as Gudelj hobbled off before half time, adding to our long injury list. Rakitic came on in his place as we looked to get back on level terms. 1-0 to the visitors at the break.
As the second half kicked off, we were almost caught sleeping. With no more than 15 seconds of the second half played, Nico Williams struck the bar with a thunderous effort from the edge of the box. The ball rebounded to Juanlu, but a goal-mouth scramble ensued from our right-back’s miskick. Amid the chaos, Sancet had an effort blocked off the line by Badé before Williams shot wide, finally allowing the crowd to breathe. Another huge let off and definitely not what Quique Sánchez Flores would have hoped for following his half-time team talk.
We improved after the break but the equaliser proved elusive
But perhaps this was the wake-up call that was needed. We finally had our first chance of the game in the 49thminute as a bouncing ball found its way to Juanlu at the back post, but he could only poke wide. More opportunities came our way during the next 15 minutes, falling to Ramos, Suso, Mir and Salas. The best of which was Suso’s, his curling effort from the edge of the penalty area fell narrowly wide of the far post.
Unai Simon was given his first real test of the match in the 73rd minute. He got down well to save a low drive by Kike Salas before getting back onto his feet to deny Rafa Mir’s rebound.
With the equaliser proving elusive, Athletic extended their lead in the 76th minute through a tidy Paredes finish. Ander Herrera’s cross from the right found Paredes in the centre of the box, who neatly tucked it into the bottom corner. No chance for Dmitrovic and a two-goal cushion for the visitors.
With no more chances of note, the game finished 2-0. The visitors take all three points back to Bilbao and move into the Champions League spots. As for us, we remain 16th, just one point above the relegation zone ahead of a trip to Ferrol in the Copa del Rey before returning to Nervión to face Deportivo Alaves next Friday.