Espanyol extend Betis losing streak
Espanyol moved to sixth in La Liga after Walter Pandiani's second-half header proved enough to beat Real Betis 1-0.
The result at Estadio Cornella-El Prat also means that Real Betis have now lost five in a row.
There were plenty of chances in the match but a combination of good goalkeeping and poor finishing kept it goalless until the 75th minute, when Uruguayan Pandiani powered home an excellent centre from on-loan Milan full-back Didac Vila.
The win was deserved - as an even first half was followed by a lopsided second, in which Betis offered little to nothing even when a goal down - and Espanyol now find themselves in the European places while Betis's alarming slide continues.
The first half boasted multiple chances for both sides but neither was able to break the deadlock in an entertaining 45 minutes.
Both keepers made smart stops, with Betis’s Casto marginally the busier as he kept out efforts from Javi Marquez and Joan Verdu, while Espanyol stopper Cristian Alvarez denied Benat twice and Jose Canas.
Defenders were called into action too, as Mario denied Espanyol’s Alvaro Vazquez with a superb challenge, while an effort from Ruben Castro was deflected wide down the other end.
Both sides had penalty appeals rejected, Espanyol’s the more credible when Chica appeared to handle, while for Betis Castro went down rather easily under Raul Rodriguez’s challenge.
For some reason Betis came out for the second half looking a shadow of the team that impressed earlier – Mario had been replaced by Jose Dorado, a defensive switch presumably due to injury – but they barely got a touch for the first quarter-hour as Espanyol went close on several occasions.
Marquez was denied by Ustaritz on the line as Casto went walkabout; Vazquez poked wide after an excellent pass by Verdu; while ponytailed forward Sergio Garcia missed a sitter when he put against the post from point-blank range with just the keeper to beat.
Betis coach Pepe Mel, who must take responsibility for the lack of second-half spark, responded by withdrawing striker Roque Santa Cruz for defender Dusko Tosic, but it initially had little effect as Vazquez spurned two great chances in quick succession.
First he put well wide from 12 yards after being threaded through on goal by an excellent low diagonal pass from left-back Didac Vila; soon afterwards the forward had a more difficult chance, a flying far-post volley, but he put it too close to Casto, who saved well with his legs.
The next 10 minutes saw Betis regain a touch of possession as they made the extra men in defence count, although much of this ball was deep and few chances were created.
Meanwhile Espanyol boss Mauricio Pochettino had made a change of his own, bringing on veteran striker Pandiani for the profligate Vazquez.
And the impact was swift, the Uruguayan using his famed aerial ability to meet a delightful cross from Didac with a prodigious leap and powerful downward header inside the right-hand post.
Suddenly the onus was on Betis to attack, something their 5-4-1 formation did not allow, so Jonathan Pereira was introduced as his side searched for an equaliser.
It had little effect as Espanyol continued to dominate, closing out the win comfortably and almost getting a second when Garcia raced through but was unable to finish.