Saturday 17 March 2018

No end in sight to Neville's Valencia nightmare

Valencia 1 Barcelona 1

Valencia's head coach Gary Neville. Photo: Alberto Saiz/AP Photo
Valencia's head coach Gary Neville. Photo: Alberto Saiz/AP Photo
Valencia's head coach Gary Neville gestures. Photo: Alberto Saiz/AP Photo

Richard Martin

Gary Neville was denied even the most futile of victories as Barcelona struck late to draw the return leg of their Copa del Rey semi-final.

This was a far more relaxed night than the galling 7-0 defeat at the Nou Camp last week, but Wilfried Kaptoum's 84th-minute leveller had the effect of making Neville's troubled reign appear bleaker still, cancelling out Alvaro Negredo's first-half goal, which looked set to offer temporary respite.

Only 16,000 fans attended the match and, although Neville was not given the noisy funeral some expected, they turned their boos on the team at the final whistle.

Dead rubber

In reality, this match was a dead rubber, more a plebiscite on Neville than anything else. His next and possibly final test is back at the Mestalla on Saturday against Espanyol - the only team with as bad a league record as Valencia since Neville took over.

Even though he had an unbeaten record at stake, Luis Enrique fielded just three of the 11 players who humbled Valencia the week before, and Neville also made eight changes, handing starts to two reserve team players.

With the hope of a turnaround implausible, the game was played at walking pace.

Valencia took the lead six minutes before the break. A long hopeful ball over the top from Aderlan Santos caught Barca's back line unaware and Negredo scored at the second arttempt.

It looked as if both teams were just going through the motions in the second half before Kaptoum had the final say, smashing a low cross from the left into the bottom corner. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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