After having several cracks at being directly promoted to Segunda, Castilla have been given yet another lifeline - another swing, another chance. All they have to do now is hurdle past Lleida over two legs, and then hurdle once more over two legs against a future opponent. But again, it's a swing and a miss. Despite Castilla dominating today's match - and probably deserving of at least a draw - they came up short. Now they have it all to do at the Alfredo di Stéfano Stadium in the return leg. Given the way they played tonight, overturning a 1-0 deficit at home is within reach, but not grabbing an away goal hurts - so does suffering through defensive lapses that costs you dearly.
The result today against a tough Lleida side was disappointing, even if there were encouraging things that came out of it. Still, this is not a time for encouraging signs and moral victories. The season is on the line. Everything that Castilla fought for this season comes down to this - a spot in Segunda, a fate-altering objective that, if not reached, could change the dynamics of what happens to the team and its players.
It's too early to paint that picture now, clearly, but the balance of keeping this team strong enough to compete in Segunda while loaning out certain players in a way that's conducive to developing the talent in the youth system is tough. If the team gets promoted, a lot of those players now have a competitive league to grow in. If the whole plan tanks, then some players will have to be loaned out rather than stay in Segunda B. That would, of course, weaken Castilla in an unideal scenario. Mariano needs to make the leap to Primera now, and players like Mayoral are too good to stay in the third tier of Spanish football.
Today Castilla dominated possession, created chances, and defended well in Lleida's end with their pressing, but their defense discombobulated at the wrong time. Lleida had just one shot on goal in the first half, and unfortunately for Castilla, it arrived at a time where they fell asleep and Lleida's Oscar Vega unleashed his inner-FIFA 99 'double-tap O when the ball is in the air' move - a stunning overhead opener past the forlorn Carlos Abad.
The lack of coverage on that sequence was the most costly lapse of the evening, but it wasn't the only one. While Castilla controlled the majority of the match, some of their giveaways in the middle of the pitch led to counter-attacks in the 2nd half that nearly led to two or three more goals for Lleida. In another instance in the 90th minute, a ball that looked harmless came towards goalkeeper Abad who misjudged it completely as it bounced over his head. Lleida nearly capitalized and scored on an empty net, but Abad recovered quickly enough to force a corner rather than a goal.
Besides the defensive lapses, there were other elements at play. The team just couldn't finish the chances they created. Lleida goalkeeper Ivan Crespo made several outstanding saves. On one of Castilla's best chances of the match, he didn't have to - Mariano skied it over the crossbar after some tidy build-up play between Enzo and Odegaard. On another occasion, Marcos Llorente hit the post from just outside the area.
The lack of finishing and laborious transitional defending is problematic for Castilla right now. They're plunging at the wrong time, and the 2nd leg will be a huge test of the team's mental make-up.
That's football. If Castilla are to overturn this deficit in what will be their biggest match of the season on the 11th of June, head coach Ramis needs to ensure the team sheds any form of paranoia it might have.
The good news for Ramis' squad is that Lleida are a very beatable side. Despite their freak goal and sporadic chances throughout the match, they could have conceded several goals. They pressed high up the pitch, and Castilla's neat intricate passing was sound enough to get past that first line of defense. For the most part, Lleida didn't do a great job to recover after that, and mid-way through the first half when Llorente, Odegaard, and Febas' distribution started clicking, the team was getting chances by slinging balls to the flanks and hitting in-swinging crosses to Mariano and Mayoral.
There is some concern with Castilla starting both Mariano and Mayoral together. For stretches throughout the season, Mariano would come off the bench for Mayoral, and that seemed to work. Castilla had an extra body in the midfield while an extra super-sub in attack to bring on in the second half. Today, that wasn't necessarily the problem. Mayoral, who played just in-behind Mariano, was the liveliest player on the pitch. He was tremendous. He hounded opposing defenders, made interceptions, and started counters. He created from deep, and nearly scored on a curling far-post attempt in the second half.
Castilla lost this match despite being the better side on a night that they slipped. It's now time to see what Ramis' men are made of. They have a massive match a week from today in what will decide their entire fate.