The Phoenix Rises!
Real Mallorca were promoted back to the promised land of the Spanish La Liga on Sunday 23rd January after a stunning 3 – 0 victory against Deportivo la Coruña in the second leg of the playoff final. The Son Moix Stadium was packed with 21,000 fans and the celebrations at the final whistle were astonishing.
The Thursday before in the first leg in Galicia the islanders slumped to a 2 – 0 defeat. After an excellent start by Mallorca, Depor took the lead from a free kick in the 36th minute that maybe keeper Reina could have done better with. Worse followed when Marc Pedraza was shown a straight red card for an ugly foul when his studs caught the face of Alex Bergantiños causing serious lacerations. Mallorca went into defensive mode and the ten men held out valiantly until the 78th minute when Quique Gonzalez scored in a goalmouth melee although it took the referee and linesman an eternity to agree that the ball had actually crossed the line.
On to the second leg and what a game it was. Baba came into the side for the suspended Pedraza and the young Ghanaian was an absolute revelation in his defensive midfield role, winning the ball back time after time allowing Salva Sevilla and Dani Rodriguez the freedom to take the game to the visitors. The fans were roaring the team on from the kick off and on 20 minutes Croatian Ante Budimir beat two men in the box and smashed home an unstoppable shot. He had been out injured for several games but showed his class and repaid the faith that head coach Vicente Moreno has in him. After the break Moreno introduced Abdon Prats in place of the ineffective Aridai and Arta born Prats was a constant thorn in the side of the visitors defence. Free kicks were being conceded by the Galicians with reckless abandon in an attempt to hold the red tide back. Silver fox Salva Sevilla punished them with an inch perfect dead ball from just outside the area. The stadium erupted and the prospect of extra time began to loom but Abdon had other ideas. He took a pass from Baba and unleashed a shot that rocketed into the net. Could Depor get the away goal that would see them promoted. It looked like it when Quique’s shot was heading for the net when Reina somehow got a hand to it to push it away. On the final whistle the fans erupted on to the pitch to celebrate with their heroes. The match will live long in the memory and Prats has written his name into the history of Real Mallorca.
Thoughts are already turning to next season. After an absence of 6 years from the top table the priority is to ensure that Moreno stays on as head coach. He has moulded this team into a formidable force and a number of clubs in La Liga have been monitoring his style.
Tranfer news is already evolving. Central defender Martin Valjent who has been on loan from Italian side Chievo was signed on a permanent basis when Mallorca took up the option to buy. He has been a rock in defence with Antonio Raillo by his side and these two will be key to a tight ship.
After playing in the third division last season on grounds with plastic pitches and a 2,000 capacity, Mallorca are now looking forward to fixtures against Real Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia and the like. The season starts on the weekend of the 17th / 18th August. Bring it on !!