REAL MALLORCA REMAIN 15H AFTER 1-1 DRAW WITH ATHLETIC BILBAO

Matthew O'Connor
TITLE contenders a couple of months ago, Real Mallorca find themselves in a relegation battle next week when they travel to Barcelona to face fellow strugglers Espanyol. Mallorca, who ended a four match losing streak with a 1-1 draw with Athletic Bilbao on Sunday, have dropped from second place in the league to 15th, winning just 6 points from a possible 39. Defeat to 18th placed Espanyol next weekend will see the Barcelona club move to within three points of Mallorca, a reminder of the agonising relegation battle last year when the Islanders' first division future was only decided on the last day of the season. Due to the extremely tight nature of the league however, victory for Mallorca could move them up to eighth and back on track for a place in Europe next season. After their poor run Mallorca were desperate to win Sunday's match at Son Moix, but the Islanders got off the worst possible start when Santiago Ezquerro gave the Basques the lead after just five minutes. A well worked move on Athletic's right allowed Tiko time to cross to a totally unmarked Ezquerro who had little trouble heading past Leo Franco. Julian Robles had the ball in the back of the net 15 minutes later but the goal was inexplicably ruled out, simply due to the fact it skimmed off Fernando Niño, who was judged offside. That the ball was going into the net anyway failed to sway the linesman. Two minutes later Robles was back in the action when he controlled the ball with his back to the goal and managed to hook the ball into the Athletic goal for the equaliser. The rest of the match lacked rhythm and excitement, although Miquel Soler's appearance on the pitch in the second-half lifted spirits. Soler was competing in his 500th match in the top flight, only the fifth player in Spanish history to the reach the milestone.

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