LALIGA | REAL BETIS 1-0 VALENCIA
Castro wins it for Real Betis to push Neville closer to edge
A goal from the Canary Islander gave Betis all three points against Valencia and saw them climb above a side increasingly slipping into the relegation dogfight.
It's not looking good for Valencia, or a coach in Gary Neville who, but for his friendship with owner Peter Lim, would have been on his bike back to Britain a while ago. Neville has not won a La Liga match since taking over at Mestalla, and at Real Betis on Sunday his negative run was extended to nine games, while Los Che as a team have not tasted league triumph in 12.
Betis saw off Valencia and moved above Los Blanquinegros in the table thanks to a tenth La Liga goal of the season from Rubén Castro - a marksman who has his bad patches but whose fire never flames out despite the passing of the years. A first victory for boss Juan Merino, fresh from being handed a vote of confidence by new club president Ángel Haro, sees Los Verdiblancos end a winless streak of nine in the top flight, and breathe a little easier.
The shining beacons of hope for this Betis side are Castro, keeper Antonio Adán, and their attitude. Not even a winter remodelling of their right flank, with the pacey Martín Montoya and Charly Musonda thrown straight into the starting line-up, has so far brought a great deal more penetration to a team that had to wait until shortly before half time to string together their first dangerous move, Ricky van Wolfswinkel's attempt stopped by Valencia custodian Matthew Ryan.
Merino had opted for two up front in a bid to solve Betis' shyness in front of goal; however, the real problem for the home coach is his side's inability to connect with the men up top. Lively but perhaps guilty of holding on to the ball for too long, 19-year-old Musonda did provide plenty of glimpses of his quality, though.
In brief bursts, a bitty Valencia made their presence felt in and around the Betis goalmouth earlier than the hosts. First, an unmarked Shkodran Mustafi spurned an effort, incorrectly believing himself to be offside, and soon after André Gomes sent a drive just wide. The Portuguese was proving a threat but was also finding little support, with Denis Cheryshev - offering hard work but little inspiration - disappointing on his first start.
Right-back Antonio Barragán played in a mask, and it was a metaphor for Neville's side: a team that is hiding. When they grab the initiative, they have the capacity to impose themselves on their opponents - but they never seem to do that. If they ratchet up the pressure, chances come, such as that created by substitute José Luis Gayá (later sent off for two bookable offences) for striker Álvaro Negredo, who shot wide when well-placed.
And if they slacken off, they find themselves going a goal behind from an eminently defendable situation: Castro fed Musonda, who passed the ball on to Van Wolfswinkel, the Dutchman's mishit drive turning into a great cross for Betis' 34-year-old striker to poke in from close range. Incidentally, it's the second time in the last two games that Van Wolfswinkel and Castro have combined for the latter to score.
Negredo had two clear opportunities to equalise, the first coming moments after Betis' opener, but the former Manchester City player appears absent and lacking in self-belief, Juan Manuel Vargas clearing from the 30-year-old from in front of the posts before another effort went off target.
Jorge Molina did have the ball in the net for Betis, but saw the flag up for offside. And in the dying seconds, the same fate befell Mustafi for the visitors. The German was off, though only marginally so. But nobody complained; there doesn't seem to be any character about them.
And there was still time for Adán, again showing why his presence is one of the major causes for optimism among the Betis faithful, to prevent Rodrigo Moreno from levelling at the death.
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