Íñigo Martínez’s debut for Athletic Bilbao ended in defeat on a cold, wet evening at the Montilivi. The Basque visitors had been undefeated since November. But, even the return of central defender Yeray after his fight with cancer was not enough to bring home the three points.
The match had hardly begun before the first goal arrived, courtesy of a penalty kick. Inside the first ten minutes, Pablo Maffeo was judged to have been fouled by Andoni Lopez. The referee judged that Lopez had pushed Maffeo at the far post when the Girona right back was running to get on the end of a good cross. Maffeo did seem to make the most of it in the wet conditions, but frustrated protests from Raul García fell on deaf ears. Uruguayan striker Cristhian Stuani easily converted from the spot.
Athletic Bilbao tried to bounce back. Five minutes after Stuani’s goal, Iñaki Williams had a great chance for the Basque visitors. His shot from range sailed just over the bar. The Spaniard could also have converted just before the end of the first half, but his left-footed shot bounced off the bar.
Apart from these two attempts, Girona largely controlled the match. Their second goal arrived in the 63rd minute, when Pere Pons intercepted Athletic’s pass, made a striding run forward and sent it wide to Portu. Stuani managed to get his head on the end of the Spaniard’s resulting cross, to increase his goal tally to 12 for the season.
Girona coach Pablo Machín was very pleased with the team performance:
“The team show every day that they want more and that they don’t relax. I am super proud to be their coach.”
Meanwhile, Athletic Bilbao coach José Ángel Ziganda lamented that they found it difficult,
“to find holes and to disorganize their defense. We found it hard to generate opportunities and danger.”
Girona now finds themselves two points shy of entering the Europa League next season. However, a tough matchup away to Sevilla awaits them next Sunday. Athletic Bilbao has an easier fixture, facing Las Palmas at home on Friday.