After four points out of a possible six and a first-ever La Liga victory, there was an overriding sense of disappointment after Girona’s 2-0 defeat to Athletic Bilbao last weekend, given the weight of expectation that has since grown from fans far and wide.
While losing was always inevitable, there were plenty of positives to take from San Mames. The Catalans certainly gave a good account of themselves against a well-drilled Athletis side, capable of inflicting damage on anyone when firing on all cylinders. Perhaps though, it’s the unavoidable belief that on this occasion, potentially with their Europa League game at the back of Jose Angel Ziganda’s mind, that Los Leones were, by many people’s standards nowhere near their blistering best, therefore making it a missed opportunity for Girona.
The visitors appeared to start the match rejuvenated after an international break, which many feared had come at the wrong time for Pablo Machín's side. On the front foot from the first minute, as well as an unchanged starting XI it seemed that there was very little deviation from the hard-working brand of attacking football, which had proved so successful against Atletico Madrid and Malaga.
An energetic start seemed to take Los Leones by surprise, but as Girona failed to make the most of their early chances on goal, it quickly became apparent that the Blanquivermell would soon be left to rue their profligacy. Indeed, their play soon became scrappy, and if Girona’s yellow-and-white ensemble didn't do it, they showed that yellow – not orange – was the new black as the cards began to stack up.
And as their hard work soon descended into even harder tackles, Girona looked vulnerable. Such defensive fragility was exposed by star of the show Inaki Williams teeing up teammate Iker Muniain to score the opening goal of the game from close range, instantaneously marking the first time that the Catalans had ever been behind in the Spanish top flight.
Girona did everything right from the outset, in keeping with their tried-and-tested XI and system, but as the game progressed, both a gulf in quality and experience in game management became apparent and, perhaps unsurprisingly, Athletic soon doubled their lead through a trademark, Aritz Aduriz finish, somewhat fittingly introducing Girona to what defeat in La Liga feels like.
A standout performance from wingback Aday Benitez encapsulated everything about Girona's rise to the top, through an incredible display of hard work, covering almost every blade of grass and giving his all. Fortunately, there is similar mindset running throughout the core of the Girona squad and fans should not be too disheartened after such a valiant effort against an established outfit, whom the new boys aspire to match in terms of stature and top-flight longevity.
Girona’s next game sees them back at home against Sevilla, who remain unbeaten after three matches and represent arguably the former’s toughest test yet. However, home is where the heart is for the Blanquiavermell and while they can afford to drop points on their travels, the same can’t be said at Montilivi. “A big percentage of our survival chances stem from being strong at home,” said Machin before the clash with the Andalusians.
A bit like the city's roman walls, Rome itself wasn't built in a day and nor will Girona in La Liga. It will take plenty of hard work and enthusiasm over time, not to mention quality and consistency, but the club and their fans have both in abundance after an 87-year wait to get here in the first place.