Valencia strike late to hold Barcelona
Santi Mina struck four minutes from time to earn Valencia a 1-1 draw against La Liga champions Barcelona as new coach Gary Neville watched from the stands.
Neville has been appointed as Nuno Espirito Santo’s replacement in a somewhat surprising move and watched on as Voro and brother Phil Neville presided over a gutsy display that saw Santi Mina cancel out Luis Suarez’s opener late on.
Nuno resigned his post following last week’s abject defeat to Sevilla but interim boss Voro witnessed a determined display at the Mestalla, even if his side rode their luck in the first half with Suarez, Lionel Messi and Neymar all missing first-half chances.
Former Manchester United and England man Neville officially takes charge from Sunday and looked set to do so against the backdrop of a defeat after Suarez scored for a seventh game in succession in all competitions.
The striker enraged Aymen Abdennour and Valencia fans moments earlier with an apparent stamp but the Mestalla erupted when Paco Alcacer brilliantly brought down a long ball on his chest before turning Gerard Pique and Javier Mascherano and playing in Santi Mina.
The young forward finished calmly past Claudio Bravo, ending Barca’s six-game winning streak in La Liga and giving Neville a positive foundation to build on.
Barca sit two points clear at the top after dropping points again at the Mestalla while Valencia will approach Neville’s debut in the Champions League against Lyon on Wednesday in high spirits.
Amid an electric atmosphere at kick-off, the game began at frenetic pace, Danilo’s effort squirming wide for the hosts, who were without suspended pair Joao Cancelo and Javi Fuego.
Barca replaced the injured former Valencia player Jeremy Mathieu with Jordi Alba and gradually grew into the game, Lionel Messi volleying Neymar’s delivery over the crossbar before the Brazilian shot over when clear on goal.
Voro’s men remained disciplined to frustrate Barca inside the opening half-hour, although Neymar continued to pose problems for right-back Ruben Vezo, squaring for Messi, who shot straight at Jaume 26 minutes in.
Valencia will perhaps feel aggrieved not to have been awarded a penalty when Gerard Pique tangled with Enzo Perez inside the box, referee Santiago Jaime uninterested.
Suarez joined Neymar and Messi in missing the target before Aderlan Santos got the crucial touch on Messi’s cross to deny the Uruguayan a simple tap-in prior to half-time.
Suarez angered Abdennour early in the second half with an apparent stamp, referee Jaime taking no action, before the Barca man clattered into goalkeeper Jaume Domenech much to the home fans’ annoyance.
And it was the former Liverpool striker who broke the deadlock just before the hour when he latched onto Messi’s lofted pass before holding off Abdennour to finish at the near post.
Domenech should perhaps have done better while there were shades of offside when Messi played the pass but Valencia almost levelled when Pique was forced into an erratic clearance after Dani Parejo’s effort was charged down.
Suarez again remained in the thick of things when he barged into Abdennour as Neymar and Rodrigo de Paul went close at either end but it was Santi Mina who played the decisive role as he stroked home the equaliser with four minutes remaining.
Danilo saw a powerful drive well saved by Bravo as Valencia set about finding a winner but Neville will instead begin his first full coaching role off the back of a hard-earned point.
Key Opta stats:
-Luis Suarez has scored in his last seven appearances for Barcelona in La Liga (10 goals).
-Claudio Bravo is the first goalkeeper to have kept five consecutive clean sheets in La Liga this season.
-Paco Alcacer has been involved in more goals than any other Valencia player in La Liga this season (three goals, three assists).
-Javier Mascherano has played his 150th La Liga game for Barcelona. He is the current player in the competition with the most games without scoring.
-Luis Suarez has scored 13 goals in 13 La Liga appearances this season.
-Santi Mina has scored his first goal for Valencia in La Liga.
-Messi, Suarez and Neymar have scored 31 out of the 34 Barcelona goals in La Liga so far this season.