Sports Desk, Dec 31 (efe-epa).- Portu’s goal on the counter just five minutes after kickoff was enough Thursday for Real Sociedad to prevail 1-0 over Athletic and solidify their hold on third place in LaLiga.
Sociedad were winless in their last nine matches – six of them in LaLiga – coming into the Basque derby on New Year’s Eve in Bilbao.
The San Sebastian side go to 29 points, 4 behind second-place Real Madrid and 3 better than Sevilla, who have played three fewer games than Sociedad.
Athletic are in 12th place with 18 points, just 3 above the drop zone, after losing at home in a match where they enjoyed 61 percent possession.
And the derby defeat is certain to put even more pressure on coach Gaizka Garitano.
Sociedad captain Mikel Oyarzabal was quick to make his presence felt on his return from injury, providing the vital assist on what proved to be the match-winner.
The play began with Andoni Gorosabel’s steal from Athletic’s Alex Berenguer, the first of several costly giveaways for the home side.
Gorosabel sent the ball forward to Jon Guridi, who combined with Mikel Merino and Oyarzabal to set up Portu.
Guridi failed to connect with Alexander Isak’s cross on a chance to double the lead in the 10th minute.
The closest Athletic came to posing a threat in the first half was a Mikel Vesga header in the 30th minute that sailed over the net.
Garitano made three changes to start the second half, but the bold decision did not translate into improvement on the pitch, as Sociedad continued to set the pace.
The visitors mounted four attacks in the space of 15 minutes. Isak forced a stop from Athletic goalkeeper Unai Simon, while Portu would have had a brace if not for a timely intervention on the goal line by defender Yuri.
Only the cross-bar denied Isak on a free kick and Simon needed to be sharp to turn aside Oyarzabal’s shot on another set piece.
Athletic’s best opportunities were an odd-man rush that Sociedad defender Igor Zubeldia disrupted by taking Oihan Sancet out of the play and a subsequent sequence that saw Sancet and Jon Morcillo fail to reach a fine cross from Yuri.
In Pamplona, Alaves wasted a chance to ascend to the top half of the table, settling for a 1-1 draw with 19th-place Osasuna.
The hosts went down to 10 men in the 8th minute with the expulsion of goalkeeper Ruben Martinez on a straight red card for a tackle on Deyverson Silva.
Yet Osasuna, with just 32 percent possession, were the more dangerous side and would have led 2-0 at half-time if shots by Ante Budimir and Ruben Garcia – on a free kick – hadn’t bounced off the posts of Fernando Pacheco’s goals.
Osasuna’s hard work was rewarded when Roberto Torres scored in the 68th minute to put the home team on top, though the lead only endured until the 75th minute, when Lucas Perez converted a penalty to bring Alaves level.
The result left Alaves in 13th place, a mere 3 points above the drop zone. EFE