The club President celebrates promotion with the players at the team hotel on Saturday evening

Almeria 2 Elche 1
Thanks to Alcorcon’s draw on Friday evening against Barcelona ‘B’, Elche knew, at long last that they were being promoted back to the mighty La Liga – Real Madrid, Barcelona and all after a gap of 24 years away from the big time.

So the Illicitanos’ team selection reflected that fantastic achievement, with Aaron, Pelayo and Flano replacing Mantecon, Generelo and Suarez. In the last pre-season ‘friendly’ just before this sensational season Almeria played Elche off their own park to win convincingly 4 – 1, Elche’s only goal coming from a penalty – and I was worried. The Franjiverdes didn’t impress – and Almeria did…

Sunday’s noon kick off in Almeria’s huge stadium with a large number of jubilant away supporters swathed in green and white soon saw Elche fall behind. After only eight minutes a free kick on the right was flicked on to Christian whose vicious left foot strike gave Herrera no chance.

On the quarter hour Elche’s Aaron was clear through, he rounded Almeria’s goalkeeper Estaban only to see his shot cleared off the line. But the real thing came on the half hour as Albacar chipped a high ball down the middle, helped on by a defender leaving the quicksilver Coro to draw Estaban and slide in the equaliser. Five minutes before half-time another free kick cleared the Elche wall and Falque caught it at the by-line, pulling it back past Herrera for the big bruiser Soriano to slide it in from a yard out.

2 – 1 it remained into the second half with chances coming and going at both ends. Escriba rang the changes, as usual and off came the ineffective Fidel for Angel, Pelayo (useless) was replaced by Xumetra and finally big Bery Powel for Rivera. There were one or two hold-your-breath moments at both ends, but the game finished with huge relief for Almeria in the second equal, sweaty position – which fortunately Elche aren’t: bin there, done that, endured the agony…

So now it’s Elche who are deservedly top: played 39, won 22, drawn 11, lost 6, goals for 50. against 25, a record-breaking points 77 with 3 games to go. Wow, what an achievement, which, as above did NOT look on at the start. But huge credit goes to coach Fran Escriba, his staff and the players. There are some real stars out there, little Coro, top scorer and find of the season, safe as houses goalkeeper Manu Herrera and right back Damian Suarez.

But my player of the season is one stalwart who has been with the club for five seasons, centre-back and defensive rock Xabier Etxeita. He’s hardly missed a game, scored four vital goals but it is his strong interceptive presence and defensive intuition that has helped Elche through many dodgy times this season, as opposed to the heartbreaking season before when Elche led the league for the first half of the season, but trailed off so abjectly in the second – which of course makes this promotion so very much sweeter, having tasted bitter defeat so often – like two seasons ago when the Illicitanos were denied promotion in the final play-off against Granada only on an away goal, everything was equal.

Still three games to go, and now with the points secured it’s only whether or not Elche will be champions – I think they will. It’s a great feeling after all the nail-biting that supporters have to do.

Real Madrid’s ‘B’ team RM Castilla are coming to Elche’s mighty Martinez Valero stadium next Sunday evening at 5pm – if you fancy a celebration!
Mucho Elche!

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