If you had offered a single point to Gary Neville before kick-off, he would have batted your hand away. With five minutes to go, he would have bitten your hand off. It’s a result that Valencia fans are becoming accustomed to, that’s the third successive home result that has finished 2-2.
Valencia struggled for fluency all game, even their goals simply came about from making the most of a long punt forward, although you can’t deny that Negredo’s 45-yard lob was a thing of beauty. Neville remains without a win in La Liga.
Rayo scored an excellent first goal, with good play from Jozabed, and a cheap second, but will perhaps feel a bit aggrieved to throw away another lead. They remain in the relegation zone. But there is life in the Madrid team!
Thanks for reading and for your emails and tweets. See you next time. Bye!
Full-time: Valencia 2-2 Rayo Vallecano
Why do Valencia only start playing to their potential in the final 15 minutes of matches?
90+4 min: One final chance for Rayo to punt the ball into Valencia’s area, after Manucho is brought down by Santos. Ah, no dice, well claimed by Ryan. But that’s it, there’s no time for a Valencia counter-attack!
90+2 min: Rayo doing well to quell Valencia’s momentum, winning free-kicks to slow down the game. Neville is a picture of frustration.
90 min: Valencia pushing for the winner now: Bakkali again tries his luck against Quini but the winger is forced inside. Andre Gomes is the next to surge forward and he plays a neat one-two with Rodrigo but Gomes’s shot is expertly blocked by Ze Castro, who throws himself in front of the ball. Four minutes added on.
GOAL! Valencia 2-2 Rayo Vallecano (Alcacer 87)
It doesn’t matter, Paco has got his goal! Bakkali has made a real difference since coming on, and he gets clear of Quini, mis-controls the ball but recovers well and squares the ball across the six-yard box, where Alcacer taps in at the back post!
86 min: Valencia have the ball in the net, but Alcacer’s strike is ruled offside! Replays show that the Spanish striker timed his run to perfection but the linesman put his flag up! Ooooo, Alcacer is fuming, and he berates the referee but gets nothing more than a yellow card.
85 min: Rayo counter-attack, and rather than hold the ball up, and kill the clock, Manucho does his best Negredo impression and tries to lob Ryan from 50 yards. The ball trickles out for a throw-in.
84 min: Jozabed, who is arguably Rayo’s best creative player (and who has been looking a little leggy of late) comes off for Raúl Baena. Rayo are shutting up shop, 10 men behind the ball.
83 min: Peter Lim, just to let you know, there are alternatives …
81 min: Increasingly desperate stuff, this. Barragan, Valencia’s right back, comes off for Bakkali, the Belgian winger. This should have been a home banker for Neville. Instead his team are fighting for a draw in front of their whistling fans.
78 min: Yellow card for Quini, who chops down Piatti when the substitute might have broken clear. Good foul to give away. A minute later Bangoura is booked for hauling Cancelo to the ground.
77 min: This will suit Rayo just fine. The game has become bitty, and fragmented. Manucho is proving to be a fine target man, and Santos in particular is struggling to get to grips with the 6ft2in striker.
74 min: Bangoura nips in on a loose ball, and for a moment it looks as though he might get one-on-one with Ryan, but Mustafi shows his experience and shepherds the ball out of play, away from danger.
71 min: Every poor pass or heavy touch from Valencia is now being jeered by their fans. Otherwise it is silent in the stadium, save for about 100 Rayo fans jumping up and down in delight in the winter sunshine.
GOAL! Valencia 1-2 Rayo Vallecano (Llorente 68)
Rayo have the lead again! Neville will be fuming, it’s a horrible goal to concede. A Jozabed corner is swung in from the right, nobody attempts to clear the bouncing ball to the near post and Llorente hooks the ball into the top corner with his right foot. Neville throws a bottle of mineral water to the ground in frustration.
67 min: Rayo respond with a change of their own: Manucho, once of Manchester United and Hull City, comes on for Miku, who has looked good in link-up play and had plenty of opportunities but failed to make anything of them.
65 min: Neville takes Negredo off! Seems a strange decision after his goal and the way he has troubled Rayo’s defenders this second half. Alcacer is on.
62 min: Rayo are trying to steady the ship, they have finally got their foot on the ball after a whirlwind 10 minutes. Negredo fouls Tito.
60 min: An hour gone, and Neville makes his first change: Piatti on for Santi Mina. The 20-year-old has had an awful day, he has lost the ball 87,037 times and not beaten his marker once.
58 min: How things change. One goal out of nothing and suddenly, it’s all Valencia! They surge forward on the counterattack, Rodrigo carrying the ball forward on the right. He has Negredo loitering at the back post but instead tries a shot, well saved by Juan Carlos, and luckily for Rayo, the ball breaks to one of their players. If that had fell to Parejo or Santi Mina instead, they surely would have tapped the rebound into an empty net.
GOAL! Valencia 1-1 Rayo Vallecano (Negredo 55)
Out of nothing, Valencia are level. Negredo with a screamer from 45 yards out! Wow, wow, wow. Rayo could so easily have been 2-0 up, but instead they are pegged back. After his miraculous double save, Ryan pumps the ball long towards Negredo. The Valencia striker is outnumbered by three Rayo defenders but battles well and gets the break of the ball, sees Juan Carlos off his line and pings a ball first time over the Rayo goalkeepers head, the ball pinging off the inside of the post and in. The Mestalla erupts!
54 min: Valencia are clinging on! Miku is sent clean through but Ryan rushes out to deny him. Pablo Hernandez picks up the rebound, skips past Barragan and tries to force his shot into the open goal but Ryan again is able to scramble and save.
52 min: What a miss from Miku! Rayo should definitely have extended their lead! Hernandez gets half a yard on Barragan and cuts the ball back from the byline. It’s behind Jozabed but Cancelo mis-controls the ball, which falls to Miku, but the striker can only fire his effort a yard wide of the left-hand post. He has his hands in his head as he looks apologetically towards the Rayo bench.
48 min: Parejo wins a good knock down and for a moment, Negredo looks as though he’s going to be able to get a shot on goal inside Rayo’s area, but the ball runs too wide and then Negredo trips over his own feet and boots the ball out for a Rayo throw-in. Maybe Neville’s decision to rest arguably Valencia’s best striker, Paco Alcacer, was a poor one.
46 min: There definitely seems to be more urgency in the way that Valencia are pressing the ball. I think I just saw Negredo grit his teeth. Woof!
Peeeeeep! Here we go again. Neville, who didn’t leave his seat in the dugout during the first half, is now patrolling his technical area.
Neville has previously admitted that he finds half-time team talks the hardest part of the job, as he needs to get his ideas across, in English, in a short space of time. He was a picture of calm during that first half, as his team cantered around the pitch in a daze. If he’s not breaking some crockery inside that dressing room, I will be surprised.
Half-time: Valencia 0-1 Rayo Vallecano
Coming into this game, Valencia were on their worst run of form since Ronald Koeman was in charge during 2007-08. Rayo were bottom of the form table in La Liga, but they’ve been made to look like a Champions League team by Neville’s boys. Valencia leave the field to boos.
45 min+2: Rodrigo whips a dangerous low cross into the box from Valencia’s left but Tito does well to turn the ball behind, when he might have easily have sliced the ball into his own net.
45 min: Bangoura has a chance! He latches onto a clever ball up the line and uses his searing pace to get away from Cancelo, but lashes his effort well over bar. State.
We’ll have three minutes added on here at the end of this first half.
44 min: Andre Gomes has had a woeful half in the middle of midfield for Valencia. He tries a shot from 30 metres out (easily blocked) when Rodrigo was screaming for the ball on the left. The Mestalla crowd tell the Portuguese exactly what they think about that.
42 min: Bangoura cuts inside Cancelo into the area and goes down under the left-back challenge … is it a penalty?! No! And it’s a good decision, Cancelo definitely got the ball.
40 min: Valencia have had a shot! It’s only taken 40 minutes. They force a corner down the right and from Parejo’s delivery the ball breaks to Rodrigo. The one-cap Spain international shoots, but his effort is blocked by his own player, Santi Mina!
38 min: I have had no reason to type Negredo’s name so far in the opening 38 minutes. The striker, who started his career at Rayo Vallecano, has been completely anonymous so far.
36 min: Rayo are definitely the better side, they deserve their lead. Miku is being given far too much room and time on the ball, albeit with his back to goal.
34 min: Pablo Hernandez is at it again – he is fast becoming the game’s most important player –and he plays a neat one-two with Jozabed, but doesn’t have the pace to get clear of Valencia’s defence, and Barragan is able to track back and tackle the ball out for a corner.
32 min: Embarba is struggling to run off the knock from earlier. It looks like he twisted his ankle after jumping for a high ball. He’s going to have to come off. Shame, really, as he was playing well down that right-hand side. Lass Bangoura is coming on.
30 min: Pablo Hernandez finds the feet of Miku, and the striker is allowed to juggle the ball – once, twice – turn and volley fiercely towards goal, but it’s right down the throat of Ryan. A yard or two to the left or right, and Rayo may well have been 2-0 up!
27 min: It’s been a very scrappy match so far. Neither team have a pass completion rate above 60%. Urgh.
25 min: Both Embarba and Miku lie crumpled in a heap after a couple of hefty Valencia challenges, the latter in a worse state after feeling the full force of Mustafi. The German has been one of the few positives for Valencia this season. He is not scare about putting his foot in when need be, but reads the game well and is very comfortable bringing the ball out from the back.
23 min: Santi Mina has been so wasteful. He’s perhaps trying to do too much, a trick here, there but doesn’t seem to have any end product. He’s had a disappointing season so far since joining from Celta Vigo in the summer.
20 min: Llorente catches Cancelo with a very late challenge. Yellow card.
18 min: Valencia’s team are really struggling down that left. I covered Eibar v Valencia a few weeks ago and Neville’s team also struggled: that day it was Orban who was given a torrid time by Keko. Things aren’t looking a lot better today. Both Rayo wingers, Embarba and Pablo Hernandez are having their way with Cancelo and Barragan respectively.
GOAL! Valencia 0-1 Rayo Vallecano (Jozabed 15)
It just won’t go right for Neville in La Liga, but his team have been second best so far, and they are punished. Again Rayo’s play comes down the right: Jozabed working the ball out to Embarba, who takes a touch, whips a low cross in and Jozabed, untracked, volleys the ball past Ryan. The Mestalla falls silent, save for a handful of Rayo fans in the rafters! Oh dear!
12 min: Pablo Hernandez, once of Valencia (and Swansea), has had some neat and tidy touches on the left. He skips inside Barragan but can’t thread a pass through to Miku.
10 min: “It may be sunny here but it’s also bloody cold, emails Martin Peters. “6 degrees is relatively freezing here and woolly hats are out in force.”
8 min: Llorente, a young defender on loan from Real Madrid, is playing defensive midfield for Rayo today. He is highly rated and reads the game superbly but might struggle against Valencia’s midfield three. Parejo picks his pocket and feeds Santi Mina on the left, but Quini does well with a nice sliding tackle. He had to get that right inside his own area, and he did.
6 min: Rayo have definitely been the stronger here, Cancelo is having a torrid time of it down the right. The visitors are creating openings but failing to capitalise – they have only scored 21 goals in 20 league games this season so you can see why they finds themselves in the bottom three.
4 min: Rayo should be 1-0 up, no question! A poor kick out from Ryan in Valencia’s goal allows the visitors to build an attack down the right: Embarba is allowed far too much time to cross and Miku ghosts in between Mustafi and Santos but can only plant a header into the ground, which bounces up, hits the bar, and is eventually cleared. Miku was six yards out, he really should have hit the target.
2 min: Oooooo! First chance for Rayo! Miku, a former Valencia striker who is yet to find the net this season, wins a good flick on and Nacho, coming up from left back takes a first-time volley at the back post, but crashes his effort high and wide.
Peeeeep! And we’re off!
The teams are out! Valencia in their home white and black strip, Vallecano is a changed purple number. It’s a beautiful winter’s day, the sun is shining over the Mestalla. Let’s do this!
The appointment of Jesús García Pitarch as Valencia’s new sporting director looks to be a shrewd one: the 52-year-old – who is also currently chairman of Hércules – acted in the same capactity under Rafa Benítez back in the early 2000s heyday in which Valencia won La Liga and the Uefa Cup. Neville seems happy at Pitarch’s arrival:
It’s an appointment that the club has been considering and needed for a while. I met with him last week, I’m happy because when they ask me in press conferences about transfers I can tell them to ask him! It’s a good appointment because he can help me a lot, he knows Valencia and knows the Spanish league. We were together and we have a good working relationship. He’s introduced himself to the players. The best thing is that he’s got a great understanding of this club, it’s good to have someone who knows well what the league is.
The countdown begins … pitch is looking en pointe.
Rayo Vallecano: Juan Carlos, Quini, Tito, Llorente, Nacho, Ze Castro, Trashorras, Jozabed, Embarba, Pablo Hernández, Miku
Sunday League football: corner flags that won’t stay straight, goalmouths an subsequent scrambles that resemble something from the Somme, tricky wingers that turn up with smoking a cigarette, wonderfully overweight and overzealous midfield generals letting them know that they are there. In the first five minutes, no doubt. What a wonderful, wonderful time to be alive.
Of course, this particular match that is about to be MBM’d to within an inch of its life is more La Liga that Sunday League, and whilst there (probably) won’t be a break in play for a stray dog that wanders off his lead onto a boggy Mestella pitch, it has certainly been heavy going for Gary Neville since joining Valencia, in La Liga at least.
The Mancunian is yet to win a league game since he was appointed in early December and has safely guided Valencia out of the Champions League, although they have had admirable draws away at Barcelona and at home to Real Madrid in that time and are also going great guns in the Copa del Rey – winning 7-0 (agg) over Granada on Thursday to set up a quarter-final tie.
Perhaps today will be the day that the Neville’s break their league duck. They could not hope for a better chance: Rayo Vallecano are bottom of the form table in Spain and are one point from the foot of the table, although an unlikely win today could lift them out of the relegation zone. Last month’s 10-2 defeat to Real Madrid still hangs heavy over Bebé and co, and they have since slipped to defeats to Atlético and bottom-placed Levante. Make no mistake, the relegation fight is on!
Valencia are about as mid-table as you can hope to be half-way through a season: 11th, eight points from the drop zone, nine points from Europe. Neville will be hoping to kickstart his season today.
Kick-off: 11am GMT, midday in Spain.