Defender Botia heads just over

Elche 1 Real Sociedad 1
For 70 pulsating minutes Elche led their illustrious visitors in the first home game back in La Liga after 24 years. The re-furbished mighty Martinez Valero stadium was buzzing, back with 23, 859 noisy green-and-white swathed fans roaring on their team with an excited welcome, the atmosphere electric.

New-look Elche tore into their opponents from the first whistle, and within seconds Coro’s fierce shot was pushed round the post. Albacar’s inswinging corner was flicked on at the near post, and there was last season’s leading scorer, Coro again to force the ball over the line from close in to give Elche the dream start after last week’s opening defeat away to Rayo Vallecano.

The Illicitanos’ starting line up was a classic blend of old and new. Star of the meanest defence in last year’s promotion season, goalkeeper Herrera, and his left full-back and dead-ball specialist Edu Albacar were the only survivors from that iron defence; left winger Fidel, midfielder Carles Gil and quicksilver Coro upfront were the other survivors from last year.
In a new-look defence the centre-back partnership of Botia and Lomban looks powerful, and the addition of strong and capable Romanian right back Sapurano completed a sound-looking defence. In midfield the addition of the classy Ruben Perez plus the exciting debut of Columbian Carlos ‘The Rock’ Sanchez gives Elche a look of quality and strength, and upfront newbie Manu del Moral joined Coro.

Elche soon showed the dream start was no fluke as they bossed the first half, creating chances with Sociedad looking strangely ineffective, as though the roles were reversed.

On 25 minutes a perfect inswinging Albacar free-kick beat the visitors defence all ends up, but somehow Sapurano’s header flashed just wide with the crowd willing it in. Busy Carles Gil was back to his exciting vibrant best, and cutting in twice from the wide right hit both shots just over as the Franjiverdes sought to consolidate their lead. Half time came with the unexpected score 1 – 0, with Elche well in control.

Only nine minutes into the second half and it should have been 2 – 0. Fidel and Coro exchanged passes and from Fidel’s byline cross Moral flashed his header wide.

Both teams steadily used all their subs, the disappointing Moral was placed by Aaron on the hour, soon followed by Sanchez limping off after a terrific debut to be replaced by old faithful Rivera. Immediately Real Sociedad equalised in a rare moment of home defensive misunderstanding, a half-hit shot from Vela creeping past Herrera to huge home disappointment.

As if in resignation Coro was replaced by new boy Alvaro, but it was Sociedad who were finishing the stronger, and in one heart-stopping moment a thunderbolt shot cannoned off Herrera’s bar to safety with minutes to go. By the final whistle Elche were rocking, and relief was palpable as the final whistle went.

The 1 – 1 draw was a fair result in the end, and one which Elche would have gladly accepted prior to the game after last week, and to go ahead in the first minute and lead such illustrious opponents for most of the match was unbelievable. There is now much to be excited and optimistic about in the City of Palms: new boys Carlos Sanchez, Ruben Perez and Sapurano look the part and with Coro looking faster than ever, and Carles Gil back on form this promises to be a season to remember.

Next week’s away visit to neighbours and fellow promotees Almeria will test Elche’s new mettle, but for now this was a great start – more please!

Mucho Elche!

Photos Kevin Rendall

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