Atletico Madrid put an end to their poor form of late by snatching a late victory over Deportivo La Coruna on Saturday afternoon, courtesy of a stoppage time winner which lifts, albeit potentially temporarily, them above city rivals Real Madrid and keeps their title hopes alive.
For the majority of the 90 minutes it looked as though Atleti were set to continue their disappointing and uninspiring form of late, however a late Thomas Partey free kick was enough to secure maximum points for the sixth time this season and extend Diego Simeone’s side’s unbeaten run so far this term.
The result closes the gap to Barcelona down to five points, with the Catalonians having the chance to reinstate their eight-point buffer when they face Sevilla on Saturday evening.
It was an opening for the football purist inside the Estadio Riazor, with the first-half lacking any real quality as either side entered the final third.
Aside from a couple of half chances for the hosts’ Zakaria Bakkali, who found regular success on the left-hand side, but similarly to his teammates struggled to impose any real threat on opposition goalkeeper Jan Oblak, the opening 45 minutes was one that will not live long in the memory.
10 minutes before the break referee Alfonso Álvarez Izquierdo was placed under the spotlight as Depor’s Sidnei seemed to be brought down in the area by a risky Atleti defensive lunge, however the Spanish official waved away the appeals leaving the score goalless at half-time.
The second-half instantly started on a brighter note, with Antoine Griezmann recording the game’s first shot on target less than a minute following the restart. However, after a slight fumble initially, custodian Costel Pantilimon was able to smother the Frenchman’s low effort.
As the half ticked on the hosts continued their opening 45 trend of seeing the ball, but just not doing much with it, and as the hour rolled by they could well have been punished for their lack of quality if it were not for the linesman’s flag.
Griezmann skipped past two defenders after picking up the ball in midfield before sliding Kevin Gameiro through in on goal – who slotted his attempt past Pantilimon, only for the referee’s whistle to disallow the converted effort, which on reflection looked an extremely tight decision
As the clock approached the end, the assistant’s board announced there would be four additional minutes, with presumably the majority watching cursing that decision in the hope of hearing the full-time whistle sooner.
However, Atleti certainly weren’t, as after just one Partey had eventually broken the deadlock from a free kick on the edge of the area.
A mazy run by Lucas Hernandez was halted illegally by Sidnei, according to referee Álvarez Izquierdo, and allowed the 24-year-old Ghanaian the opportunity to step up and curl his effort into the back of Pantilimon’s net, breaking Depor hearts and relieving the growing pressure on Simeone’s shoulders.
As the full-time whistle echoed around the Estadio Riazor the relief from Atleti players rivalled that of their title-winning season, and they now go into the international break knowing they are still in this year’s title hunt.