Rayo's rollercoaster season presses on

Posted by Nicholas Rigg

Arroyo Moreno/Getty ImagesPaco Jemez's Rayo Vallecano have yet to play to a draw this season in La Liga.

The saying goes that with great power comes greatly responsibility, something echoed by under-pressure Rayo Vallecano boss Paco Jemez after seeing his side go down 4-1 against a Sergio Garcia-led Espanyol in Madrid on Sunday.

- Report: Garcia hat-trick sees off Vallecano

A number of managers in La Liga are under threat of the sack as the season edges closer to its winter break, with the honest-speaking Jemez joining Pepe Mel, boss of rock-bottom Betis, who suffered a humiliating 4-0 defeat at derby foes Sevilla at the weekend, and Valencia manager Miroslav Djukic, who has been under the cosh since pretty much the first day of the season as the main candidates to get the chop.

Rayo's defeat at Vallecas was their tenth of the season so far. They have only won four times and are the only side in the division not to share the spoils in a match -- they are entertainers, no doubt. You'll see a result if you go and watch the Vallecanos.

They have been the entertainers for a number of seasons in Spain, often punching above their weight and with financial constraints, and indeed big issues, to deal with at crucial times. They are the team that brought Michu to the attention of the Premier League, they helped convince Atletico Madrid of Diego Costa's abilities when he spent a loan spell across the city and duly bagged nine goals in 16 appearances. The rest, as they say, is history.

Rayo share the same city as the giants of Real Madrid and Atletico but that is where the similarities end. The cloth of Rayo, and of Jemez, is cut very differently and that cloth will have to be cared for extremely well between now and the end of the season if they are to continue their stay in the top flight.

On paper, the drubbing dished out by Espanyol was a drubbing in scoreline only. Rayo made mistakes, with goalkeeper Ruben sent off for bringing down hat-trick hero Garcia in the first half when the Espanyol man was through on goal -- an early bath for Rayo's No.1 and an opener for Garcia from the spot. The next mistake, a foul by Anaitz Arbilla on Jhon Cordoba inside the box. A second penalty for the visitors and a second goal five minutes into the second half. The mountain to climb just got higher.

But after falling behind, Rayo showed some of their typical gutsy fighting spirit. Lass twice had good chances to level things up before the break as the hosts refused to throw the towel in.

Even when Garcia doubled his tally five minutes after the restart and the handful of Espanyol fans knew the trip was worth making, Rayo, backed by their usual vociferous support behind the goal, kept on going and Joaquin Larrivey was brought on for Leonel Galeano as Jemez threw caution to the wind.

This is a Rayo side that in their last outing travelled to Celta Vigo and returned from Galicia with an impressive 2-0 victory. Before that, their last match on home soil saw them give 'big brothers' Real Madrid a real fright. Los Blancos were seemingly cruising at 3-0 up before Rayo, helped by two penalties, hauled themselves back into the game and probably should have taken a point with the chances they continued to create until half-time.

This is a side that, in recent weeks at least, does not know when to give up and Rayo fans will be hoping that is the story of their season, albeit with a happy ending.

The Catalans seemed to be making the long trip back with a comfortable three points but Rayo had other ideas, at least for a minute. Saul, on loan from Atletico, rose high to bundle the ball into the back of the net from a corner kick and "The Final Countdown", Rayo's goal music of choice, rung around Vallecas.

But no sooner was the comeback on than it was over. Garcia got away and the chance for his treble seemed to have gone, but he held his balance and toe-poked the ball sweetly past substitute goalkeeper David Cobeno to seal the points. Christian Stuani added a somewhat harsh fourth with Rayo pushing forward and leaving the defence non-existent.

"The result is misleading and that's not taking any credit away from Espanyol, who were justifiable winners," said the Rayo boss post-match. "I leave with the sensation that my players have fought and haven't lost their determination." He was right, Rayo have not lost their fight and determination, but they will need a bit more of that if they are to survive in the top flight this season. Some more discipline for one.

Jemez poured the blame his way after the match, shielding the players, despite highlighting the errors. "I'm the one who is ultimately responsible. The players aren't to blame for anything. The players are giving everything they've got and they're doing their best. If the club needs to change something, it's the manager."

A brutally honest assessment, but Jemez will be hoping the club sticks by him in the upcoming crucial weeks, and that he gets a response from the players.

Rayo face one of those proverbial six-pointers this weekend when they travel to Seville to face a Betis side who will no doubt be hurting from their crushing derby defeat. Three points for either side would be huge; defeat at this stage of the season would be unthinkable. Another test, albeit in the Copa del Rey, against fellow strugglers Vallodolid comes after, making the next fortnight a key one for Paco Jemez.

He'll be hoping it's not his 'Final Countdown' at Vallecas.


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