Former Manchester City striker Alvaro Negredo missed two second half sitters as Valencia lost again, meaning Gary Neville has now failed to win any of his first eight league games as the club’s manager.
Neville has taken just five points from a possible 24 since taking over and Valencia are now being sucked towards the drop-zone after this 1-0 defeat to Sporting Gijon.
On Wednesday, Europe’s finest will be in town as Barcelona arrive for the first leg of the Copa del Rey semi-final. Sporting are a million miles from last season’s treble winners. But the relegation favourites left with all three points scoring with a second half penalty.
Negredo’s decline has been almost as steep as Valencia’s – the one-time Spain international also missed Valencia’s best first half chance and Neville desperately needs the injured Paco Alcacer to return from strained knee and ankle ligaments.
Valencia started brightly and after six minutes Valencia had their first chance when Pablo Piatti wriggled clear and played in Sofiane Feghouli. He cut back inside on to his favoured left foot but his shot was weak and easily saved.
Piatti had started well and his pass was good but Feghouli, making his first start for over two months, couldn’t finish. Piatti had the next chance stinging Ivan Cuellar’s hands with a rasping shot that was tipped over.
The early pressure was promising and Neville remained on the edge of his technical area willing in the first goal but by the half hour mark he was lifting his arms in a clear gesture to his players for them to raise the tempo – their early threat had disappeared and both team seemed to be going through the motions.
As centre-back Aymen Abdenmour hoofed a hopeful long ball forward, and it ran straight to Sporting’s keeper it was all Neville could do to not let the player know how wasteful he had been with possession.
There were more stray passes and a few impatient whistles could now be heard around Mestalla. They turned to groans in 39 minutes when Feghouli cleverly let a forward pass from Antonio Barragan run to Negredo who was in the clear with only the advancing Cuellar but he took three touches and what seemed like an age to get his shot away and the keeper saved.
He also smothered the rebound as Valencia were second to the loose ball. The old Negredo who Manchester City signed would have devoured the opportunity – the striker City managed to sell back to Spain is a very different player.
Sporting were worse than Valencia in the first half and not even half as ambitious. It was one of those games that makes a nonsense of the idea every La Liga is technically better than the Premier League – Sporting midfielder Jony hit the corner flag with a miscued shot in the last action before the half-time whistle.
Things got worse for Neville at the restart when Danilo tripped Jony in the area and the referee pointed to the spot. It was the softest of penalties and Antonio Sanabria stroked it home.
It would have been two if Mathew Ryan had not saved Jony’s free-kick moments later. The goal against them woke Valencia up from their second half slumber and from Feghouli’s corner Negredo crashed a header off the post. Neville took off the woeful Danilo and and the popular Piatti. The Mestalla booed both – the first because they don’t like the player; the second because they did not like the change.
The Negredo chance lifted the home supporters who were now right behind the team.
But they looked on in disbelief as Negredo then missed two sitters. Both times he only had the goalkeeper to beat and on both occasions failed to hit the target. Substitute Rodrigo also put a chance agonisingly wide and as the clock ran down and Valencia stretched the run with out a league win to ten games.