Real Mallorca hung on bravely to go joint top of the Spanish second division when they beat Rayo Majadahonda one-nil in the late-night sweltering August heat of Madrid. Monday night's win means that we're the only team besides Malaga with two wins from two, to share top spot, a position we haven't occupied in La Segunda for 22 years, and we are the only team in La Segunda to keep a clean sheet so far.
But, boy, did we suffer in the second half and if it wasn’t for the heroics of Manolo Reina in the Mallorca goal we would not have taken all three points. The home team, who’ll be playing in Atletico Madrid’s Wanda Metropolitano until the new year, came close on several occasions, hitting the bar on the half-hour mark. But even with all their second-half superiority they couldn’t find a way past the inspired Reina.
Mallorca took the lead after 14 minutes. Pedraza intercepted a Rayo move, hoicked the ball through to Abdon Prats, who shrugged off two despairing tackles, slipped a pass to striking sidekick Carlos Castro and his finish was sublime. He took one touch then rocketed the ball home. This was his first goal for eight months. At last the player from Sporting Gijon looked at his best and he, like so many players on the pitch, finally succumbed to the 31C heat and was taken off near the end. After half an hour an excellent referee called a stoppage for the first water break with Mallorca totally in the driving seat.
The home team's first positive move forward saw the game's best player, Aitor Garcia, on loan from Cadiz, hit a howitzer from 30 yards that cannoned off the bar and beat Reina all ends up; Lady Luck looked to be on our side. Rayo refused to lie down and looked a completely different outfit to the one we beat over two legs, taking the outright Segunda B champion's title in May. As half time came nobody watching in a half full Mallorcafé could deny we were ahead on the Wanda scoreboard but wouldn’t have been surprised if we'd been level or even behind especially after the first 30 minutes.
After the break, Mallorca came close again through Castro and Aridai but the heat started to take its toll; players from both sides began to look leggy with energy levels sagging. Then came the move of the game which saw Abdon's left-footed effort crash against the post. The islanders hung on for a great victory in the intense heat but have only a short recovery time before they're back in Madrid to play Alcorcon on Friday at 8pm.
Just to emphasise how tough this league is, up until we kicked off at 8pm only Malaga had taken maximum six points from two games. It was really weird to see the 68,000 capacity Wanda Metropolitano looking soulless with just 3,424 spectators, including 200 Mallorquinistas. We defended magnificently in the second half and looked more and more tired as the game came to a nail-biting finish.
Our front two, Mallorca-born Abdon Prats and Carlos Castro, have hit a purple patch and are playing well as a striking tandem. I know there’s a long, long way to go but looking at the league tables, isn’t it good to see Mallorca joint top behind Malaga. Long may it continue.