Roberto Soldado handed Valencia victory this evening against Espanyol (2-1), scoring a controversially doubtful 88th minute penalty. The referee, Del Cerro Grande, following the instructions of his assistant, gave the penalty for a handball from Héctor Moreno, when it appeared that the Espanyol player had his hands to his chest. It was an excessive punishment for an Espanyol team that didn't deserve to leave the Mestalla empty handed; the three points were excessive reward for a Valencia team who only managed to show glimpses of superiority, and even then only at times, during the first half.
The two teams came out onto the pitch with different needs, but both with an obligation to get something from the game: Valencia trying to keep pace with the teams at the top of the league; Espanyol trying to finally wake up and escape from the relegation zone.
As soon as Valencia settled in the game Espanyol keeper Cristian Álvarez began to suffer. And he suffered until Jonathan Viera beat him with an angled shot in the 15th minute. The goal came from nothing, except for bad luck, in a clearance from Raúl Rodríguez which hit Jonas in the face and fell on the rebound to Viera. It could have easily been Jonas or Soldado and not Viera who opened the scoring, these two having carved up the Espanyol defence on at least three occasions before then.
But Valencia are yet to realise that games have to be killed off, or they can suddenly become difficult. After Viera's goal Pellegrino's team sat back a few metres, just enough for Espanyol to lose less balls in the danger area, and to let Diego Alves into the match. In the visiting team's best attack up to that point Longo scored. And interestingly he did so a minute after Valencia's Jonas had dived in a quite absurd fashion. The Brazilian beat two defenders and instead of looking to find a teammate to play the killer pass, he opted to try and con the referee. But Del Cerro Grande didn't fall for it and as an additional punishment to the yellow card, a goal for Espanyol in the next piece of play. The draw arrived thanks to a well worked piece of precision football with Víctor Álvarez, Sergio, Verdu and Longo all involved.
Longo's strike shocked Valencia into pushing up the pitch again, only a few metres, but enough to regain their dominance; although Espanyol were no longer the soft, bland team they had been at the start of the match. Pochettino's lot had struck once and were keen for more. And from the restart it was the Catalan outfit who were bolder and within 10 minutes had the home team unsettled, and their fans whistling in contempt.
Verdú was in control and Wakaso and Longo obliged Diego Alves to run his legs off. Valencia appeared under the influence of chloroform. No movement, no threat, no oomph. Pellegrino was aware of the problem and tried to bring some speed into the team bringing on Banega. But Valencia continued to be ineffective. The opposite of Espanyol, who during practically the whole second half were more certain and with clearer decision making throughout their play.
Truth be told the luck fell to the home team in that the referee avoided the tough decisions and then fell back on his assistant's vision. Firstly he decided the fight between Albelda and Longo in the Valencia box was entirely normal, despite the Italian ending up on the ground. He decided Tino Costa's pull was worthy only of a foul and not a card, which would have led to his expulsion, having only just seen his first yellow. But the ref's worst moment was yet to come. Valencia shouldn't even have reached the Espanyol box, because Banega committed a clear foul in the build up, but the play continued. The ball then hit Héctor Moreno, but he had his hands tight to his chest. It was never a penalty, but the assistant referee decided it was, and the actual referee went along with him. Roberto Soldado didn't waste the opportunity.