|First Division - Day 30|
Athletic Bilbao 0 - Espanyol 1
Lacruz, Roberto Rios, Oscar Vales, Larrazábal; Orbaiz (Merino 85'),
Alkiza; Tiko (Yeste 70'), Julen Guerrero (David Cuéllar 85'), Ezquerro;
Team changes: Bilbao: Julen Guerrero, Urzaiz for Felipe, Joseba Etxeberria / Espanyol: Cristóbal, Morales for Iván Diaz, Martín Posse.
Espanyol kept their slim hope of European football alive with their third one goal victory in four games. Once again it was Raúl Tamudo who scored the only goal of the match, this time just before half time, to sink a poor Athletic Bilbao side who have now gone six games without a win. With Posse suspended, Oscar and Benítez injured and Nishizawa not on his best form, Paco Flores tried out a new formation for this game, using Sergio as a support striker behind Tamudo. Txetxu Rojo was missing the injured Etxeberria, and so brought back club captain Julen Guerrero after four games out of the starting line up. His one and only striker, Ismael Urzaiz, had also recovered quicker than expected from his injury, and Rojo drafted him straight into the team, with Ezquerro dropping back to the line of three behind him.
The return of the Spanish international striker gave them a focal point to aim at, but even then they made no headway against a well disciplined defence, with Mora on his best form between the sticks. Urzaiz was in the thick of the action right from the start, testing Mora with a long shot early on and going close three or four times in the opening twenty minutes or so. But Espanyol weathered the initial storm and gradually got back in to the game, with Velamazán and Sergio looking for ways through the Bilbao rearguard. Lafuente saved well from Sergio five minutes before half time, but a couple of minutes later Tamudo gave his side the lead with a timely individualist goal, cutting in from the left and leaving defenders behind him before beating Lafuente. Rojo was lost for ideas as his side lost their momentum, and only Ezquerro showed any spirit, shooting against the crossbar with an hour gone on the clock. Sergio and Tamudo could have extended the visitors' lead if they had been more on target, but it wasn't necessary anyway as by then there was little danger of the Basques scoring a goal.
The crowd started to get impatient as the game wore on, and Rojo's frustration was evident as he picked up two yellow cards for protesting, getting himself sent into the stands in the last minute of the game. With presidential elections coming up candidates are already manoeuvring for an advantage, and Javier Clemente, in the crowd for this match, is being touted by some as a future replacement for Rojo. After three defeats in a row they drop to thirteenth, only six points now above the drop zone. Paco Flores has achieved his first objective, the 40 points he considered sufficient to ensure their continuity in the top flight. However they are only four points away now from sixth placed Alavés, and still have a chance of playing in Europe next season. If they don't make it though, someone else will probably be in charge for their next campaign.