Perez wonder strike fires Espanyol to victory

Espanyol bolstered their La Liga survival prospects after recording a 2-1 victory over fellow stragglers Rayo Vallecano at Estadi Cornellà-El Prat on Monday evening.

The hosts went into the half-time break with a slender lead thanks to Abraham González’s 12th-minute goal, before Manucho popped up in the 67th minute to head Rayo back on level terms. However, Espanyol reclaimed the lead through substitute Hernán Pérez’s powerful volley and held on to their lead despite the sending off of Víctor Sánchez in the dying moments of the encounter.

The match started at a cautious tempo, with neither side willing to commit to many numbers in attack in the opening exchanges.

Rayo briefly threatened in the eighth minute, but former Manchester United striker Bebe saw his effort on goal blocked by the last line of defence.

However, the match sprang to life four minutes later as midfielder González connected sweetly with Marco Asensio’s inswinging cross, slotting home from the centre of the box with a right-footed effort.

The hosts very nearly added to their advantage just two minutes later, but goalkeeper Yoel, on loan from Valencia, was alert to the danger, getting down well to his left to keep out Burgui’s goal-bound shot.

Following a brief lull in play, Rayo created their best chance of the half on 32 minutes, only for Manucho to head wide of the right-hand post from Adrián Embarba’s pinpoint cross.

The White and Blue hit back with a good chance of their own just one minute later, but Víctor Sánchez saw his left-footed shot from outside the box saved in the top-left corner by Yoel.

And that was the last real chance of note as the first half fizzled out in a disappointing fashion.

Despite a sluggish start to the second half, there was plenty more action to come.

Abraham and Asensio almost combined to devastating effect again in the 55th minute, but the former’s shot lack accuracy and was collected with relative ease by Yoel in the Rayo goal.

The Red Sashes responded almost immediately, creating two chances in quick succession. However, efforts from Aras Özbiliz and Joni Montiel were lacking in cutting edge, flying wide of the mark.

At the opposite end of the pitch, Espanyol’s Burgui shot wide of the left-hand post from the left side of the box, before Gerard Moreno saw his shot from the right side of the box snapped up by Yoel.

Moreno was made to rue that missed chance as Rayo went on to snatch an equaliser in the 67th minute, Bebé firing a right-footed shot across the face of goal and into the bottom-right corner.

The goal did little to deter the hosts, however, as substitute Hernán Pérez smashed a sweetly struck volley into the top-right corner from just inside the area on 77 minutes, following a poor clearance by the Rayo defence.

And Pérez’s world-class strike proved to be the difference as, despite Sánchez’s late sending off, Espanyol saw out the remaining minutes with minimum fuss to move five points clear of the dreaded drop zone.