RCD Espanyol fell to a 2-1 defeat at home to Athletic Club on Saturday.
Espanyol returned to the RCDE Stadium for the start of a new era, as Luis García took his first match as coach in front of a home crowd. They hosted an Athletic side off the back of a Copa del Rey semi-final exit but still in the hunt for European football.
The hosts started well though needed to settle down into what was a crucial match. Before they could do that, Athletic took the lead in a clinical move from Iñaki Williams. Espanyol’s best chance would not come until the final five minutes of the half, when Joselu dragged his shot wide of the post after working his way in.
There was late drama at the end of the first half, when Martin Braithwaite scored a stunner by smashing it in at the near post. But referee José Luis Munuera Montero consulted VAR for a Joselu handball in the buildup – despite the fact he was being fouled himself – and it was controversially disallowed to leave them behind at the break.
Espanyol needed to fight back in the second half, bringing on Aleix Vidal for new drive on the flank. Athletic continued to come closer to scoring and the Williams brothers both had glaring opportunities, with Iñaki firing over from the edge of the box and Nico failing to get onto a low cross in front of goal.
However, Nico Williams would only need another sight at goal to curl it in from the edge of the box to double Athletic’s advantage. Nico Melamed almost pulled one back when his effort just missed the top corner, but Sergi Darder eventually would earn a consolation with 90 minutes on the clock and just stoppage time remaining.
With just a goal in it and Espanyol pushing for the equaliser, they were reduced to 10 men when Aleix was shown two yellow cards in the space of a few seconds. Despite their efforts, Espanyol could not come back and were beaten at the RCDE Stadium.
RCD Espanyol: Pacheco, Rubén S. (Aleix V.C 46’), Cabrera, Montes, Óscar Gil (Calero 76’), Gragera (Vini Souza 83’), Edu Expósito (Nico M.R 57’), S. Darder, Puado (Denis Suárez 83’), Braithwaite, Joselu
Athletic Club: Unai Simón, De Marcos (Paredes 89’), Vivian, I. Martínez (Yeray 79’), Yuri B, Dani García (Ander Herrera 79’), Vesga, Williams, O. Sancet (Muniain 69’), Berenguer (Williams Jr 69’), Guruzeta
Referee: José Luis Munuera Montero
Goals: 0-1 Williams 22’; 0-2 Williams Jr 75’, 1-2 Darder 90’
Bookings: Braithwaite 21’, Gragera 53’, Óscar Gil 59’. Calero 78’, Aleix V.C 90+1’; De Marcos 21’, Dani García 30’, O. Sancet 44’, Unai Simón 90+4’
Red cards: Aleix V.C 90+1’