We have two cup finals remaining, as it were, to secure our survival in La Liga. Out of a possible 102 points, Granada have managed just 34. But fear not – Sporting Gijon are two points behind us, with Alaves now four adrift.
Only Alaves and Athletic Bilbao stand in between us and freedom. Our future is in our own hands, if we’re to wheel out every relegation cliche in the book. One defeat in the last five games has left us in a good position for this final push – and I’ve a sneaking suspicion that three more points may finish the job.
Alaves are the visitors to Estadio Nuevo Los Carmenes, and they’re staring down the barrel of relegation’s sizeable firearm. We can be the executioner, essentially, and this power trip has gone to the heads of both me and my trusty assistant, Nigel Reo-Coker.
4-4-2 is the chosen tactic once again, after we decimated Leganes last time out. At this point, I’m prepared to both live and die by the sword. Ruben Vezo is suspended, meaning David Lomban starts at centre-back. Andreas Pereira is unlucky to miss out and will be the first man off the bench if required.
On nine minutes, it’s time for that man to shine again. Mehdi Carcela completely fluffs a free-kick on the edge of the box, but fortunately the rebound falls straight back to him. Without hesitation, he drives into the penalty area and fires a low shot across goal and into the back of the net. 1-0!
We have a bit of a scare as the first half draws to a close. Ibai Gomez takes a pot shot from distance, and the ball cannons off Deyverson and flies into the back of the net. Just as I’m about to lose it with the players, the assistant raises his flag for offside and I breathe a sigh of relief.
The half-time stats don’t lie. Alaves have been better than us in every department. Artem Kravets has been having a dreadful game, so it’s time for the trusted Plan B of bringing Pereira into the No.10 role.
It changes little, however. Ruben Vezo’s suspension seems to be our equivalent of Samson heading to the barbers, with Zouhair Feddal rising highest to nod Alaves’ deserved equaliser on 49 minutes. We couldn’t keep the ball if our lives depended on it today.
It’s time for a rethink. Carcela and Mubarak Wakaso are pushed forward in an attempt to hit Alaves on the break. The back four are playing dreadfully, compounded by Dimitri Foulquier picking up a second yellow card with 40 minutes left to play. As far as five-minute periods go, this could have gone better.
But somehow we cling on for a point. It wasn’t pretty, nor did we create anything after Foulquier’s dismissal, and I almost had a heart attack when Deyverson prowled into our area in stoppage time to force another save from Ochoa.
A hard-fought 1-1 draw gives us a three-point gap over 18th-placed Sporting, and we’re 10 goals better off on goal difference. Surely we can’t throw this away? Then again, we are now without a right-back for the final game of the season against Athletic, who have European aspirations.
Antonio Marin, on loan from second division Almeria, is forced to start at right-back, with Ruben Vezo replacing the suspended David Lomban at centre-back. Pereira starts in the hole, with Sergi Samper replacing the recently disappointing Uche in central midfield.
With only 24 seconds on the clock, Aritz Aduriz steals in for Athletic to find the back of the net. I shoot Nigel a look on the touchline: “Not a word.”
Still, as long as we don’t lose by a huge margin, we should be safe. In the other game of significance in the relegation battle, Sporting take a 1-0 lead over Eibar. Are we going to fall at the death?
At half-time, Nigel offers some important advice. “If we don’t shoot, we’re not going to score and we won’t win,” he says. Cue the wingers being pushed up. I knew there was a reason I hired him: Rene Krhin bursts clear on 69 minutes and rifles home the equaliser and suddenly we’re back in it.
Despite being by far the worse team and having just two shots on target throughout the entire game, it ends 1-1. That point is enough to secure the survival that seemed almost impossible eight games ago. We’ve done it!
36 points from 38 games isn’t the best return, but the Tony Adams Challenge has gone well. In fact, it’s gone a hell of a lot better than real life. We’ve survived, taken 10 points from the last 15 available, and remain in La Liga for another season at least.
Mehdi Carcela was excellent, with Rene Krhin stepping up to the plate brilliantly in central midfield. Adrian Ramos and Andreas Pereira had their merits, and our 4-4-2 system proved its worth. I can now retire a happy manager as the sun sets over Estadio Nuevo Los Carmenes for the last time.