The second tier of Spanish football once again produced a season of highs and lows, of euphoria and heartbreak, of underdogs and underachievers. The enthralling race to win promotion to La Liga went not just to the final day, but to the final seconds, as did the battle to avoid relegation to the dreaded regionalised third tier.
Many themes and issues will be remembered in a remarkable season in Liga Adelante, but the redemption of Real Betis, inspired and invigorated by returning hero Pepe Mel in the dugout, led the Verdiblancos to their seventh Segunda title. The Andalusians budget stood out from any other side in the League, but this was a beleaguered club reeling from a disastrous 2013-14 campaign where they finished bottom of La Liga and entrenched in turmoil and instability.
Languishing in seventh in November, the club went on a remarkable run of 19 wins and only one defeat in 26 League outings after turning back to a man who nobody had wanted sacked 12 months previously.
Mel won the division in his first spell at the club and repeated the trick – a unifying figure, his calming influence guided Betis to the Promised Land and his tears when promotion was confirmed, with two match days remaining, said it all.
The second automatic promotion spot went down to the wire. Girona – who had never before reached the top flight – only needed to win at home to mid-table Lugo on the final day to seal an unlikely fairy-tale. If they did not, Sporting Gijon could capitalise by winning at already-promoted Betis.
Fran Sandaza put the Catalans 1-0 up just before the break and Girona were ready to party, even though Sporting had pulled off a stunning 3-0 victory at Villamarin against Betis. Pablo Nicolas Caballero equalised as the game ticked into injury time and a stunned silence fell over the Estadi Municipal Montilivi. Deep into the four added minutes Girona thought they’d won it, but Florian Lejeune’s header was correctly overruled for offside, and despite a delay due to crowd trouble, the match ended 1-1 and Sporting sealed a return to the top flight for the first time in four seasons.
Girona will have to make do with the play-offs, where they will face Real Zaragoza – Los Blanquillos, relative giants at this level, failed to awaken from their slumber and are facing up to their longest spell [three years] outside the top flight since the mid-1950s. The other tie will see Las Palmas aim to end their 14-year hiatus from La Liga as they take on Valladolid.
Los Amarillos are perhaps slight favourites to go up from these four. In their six combined matches against their three rivals they won five and drew one, plus they finished joint top goal scorers alongside Betis.
The other end of the table somehow matched the top for drama, narratives and subplots. The fluidity of the Spanish League structure means four sides drop down into the regionalised third tier [four Leagues of 20 sides each] and the only ‘B’ team in the division went first. Despite blooding a host of youngsters tipped to become superstars – Adama Traore, Alen Halilovic and Sergi Samper among them – Barcelona B finished bottom. Their Catalan neighbours Sabadell also went after a disappointing campaign, as did Recreativo Huelva – Spain’s oldest club, Copa Del Rey finalists only 12 years previously.
One further spot went to the final day and it was between two clubs who in recent times had grown accustomed to La Liga being their home – Racing Santander, in the midst of prolonged financial headaches threatening the very existence of the club, and Osasuna, whose off-field problems also failed to subside. Los Rojillos needed only a point against already-relegated Sabadell to stay up, while Racing needed to win at Albacete and hope.
The side from Pamplona suffered final day heartbreak last season as their 14-year spell in La Liga came to an agonising end, a home victory over Betis not enough to see them retain their top-flight status and coupled with a barrier collapsing in their stadium, seeing 68 people injured, it was a draining experience. Back-to-back relegations was a reality as Racing edged out a 1-0 win in Albacete and Osasuna trailed 1-0 in Catolonia, Javier Flano’s last-gasp equaliser was enough for them to climb to safety.
The fall of both clubs has been dramatic. It was only 2008 that Racing beat Manchester City in the UEFA Cup and drew away to Paris Saint-Germain, while 77 years of their 84-year history has been played out between the top two tiers. Osasuna meanwhile reached the semi-finals of that tournament in 2007.
Directly promoted to La Liga: Real Betis, Sporting Gijon.
Play-Offs for promotion to La Liga: Valladolid vs Las Palmas, Zaragoza vs Girona
Relegated to Second Division B: Barcelona B, Sabadell, Recreativo Huelva, Racing Santander