Osasuna shocks lowly Villarreal late
Osasuna scored twice in the final 15 minutes to beat Villarreal and put themselves firmly in the race to earn a European spot this season.
After a disjointed first-half the game came to life after the break. Javad Nekounam nearly put the hosts in front with a thundering shot from distance that hit the underside of the bar, but it was the visitors who eventually took the lead after a wonderful team move.
Borja Valero and Marcos Senna were involved before Cani squared for Marco Ruben to slide in his fourth of the season.
But Ibrahima Balde levelled after controlling Roland Lamah’s cross and calmly finishing past Diego Lopez, and Osasuna completed the comeback nine minutes from time as Sergio Fernandez rose to power home David Timor’s corner.
Jose Luis Mendilibar had restored Raul Garcia to his Osasuna starting line-up and his drive in midfield aided the hosts as they made a bright opening.
Nino twice had the chance to put them in front in the first half but he shot wildly over when one-on-one with Lopez before heading just over form 10 yards out.
Nekounam’s spectacular strikes have been a feature of Osasuna’s six-game unbeaten run and he nearly produced another wonder goal as his free-kick from all of 35 yards came crashing back off the bar six minutes into the second-half.
One of the main differences between Villarreal’s poor form this season and last season’s fourth-placed finish has been their inability to break sides down with the quick incisive passing that was such a feature of their play last term, but they produced just that kind of move on 63 minutes to take the lead.
A patient build-up finally found Cani on the edge of the area and his low cross was expertly turned in by Ruben.
The goal forced Osasuna back on to the front foot and they were brought back into the game thanks to a great finish from Ibrahima.
There appeared to be no danger from Lamah’s angled cross but the Senegalese controlled the ball in an instant to put him through on Diego Lopez and he placed his left-footed shot well beyond the keeper.
Alvaro Cejudo thought he had wasted the chance to win the game for the home side as Juan Oriol got across well to divert his shot wide, but from the resulting corner Sergio rose highest to power a header into the bottom corner.
Villarreal’s third defeat in four league games sees them finish the year above the relegation zone only on goal difference whilst Osasuna are now only four points off Levante in fourth.