Captain Coates spares Sporting’s blushes in 1-1 draw versus Midtjylland
A final equalizer from Sebastián Coates saved Sporting from an apparent defeat in a weak Europa League clash with Midtjylland.
Sporting dominated possession but rarely capitalized on the ball and fell behind when Emam Ashour punished a terrible defense by goalkeeper António Adán and fired into the empty goal from 25 metres.
Coates saved the Lions from the shame of defeat but frustrated home fans vented their anger at the performance after the final whistle.
As has become the norm in a season of instability at Alvalade, coach Rúben Amorim made a number of changes. Jeremiah St Juste, Nuno Santos, Ricardo Esgaio, Arthur Gomes and Paulinho all started after being on the bench in Sunday’s loss to Porto.
Sporting dominated possession and tried to show attacking intent from the start, but save for a half-hearted penalty after Paulinho fell into the penalty area in the 10th minute, the hosts were relatively easily contained by the visitors.
Gonçalves was great in midfield, Gonçalves missed up front
Pedro Gonçalves pulled out all the strings, spraying some beautiful ‘quarterback’ style passes to get Sporting moving, but his incisiveness was sorely missed up front as Edwards, Paulinho and Gomes failed to find the final pass. Throughout the season, while Pote’s position in midfield has provided advantages in the early stages of the build-up, it has significantly reduced Sporting’s goal threat as he remains arguably the club’s best finisher.
In the 24th minute, Edwards sent in an inviting cross and Gomes, slotting in at the far post, only failed to put in a proper connection for what looked like a sure goal.
In the 32nd minute, Pote found himself further up the field and fired just over the bar from the edge of the box.
Both sides at half-time Paulinho threatened to break the deadlock but couldn’t find the goal. The striker finally had the ball in the net in the 56th minute, but the celebration was cut short when offside was ruled out.
A strong 15-minute period after the break failed to bring the breakthrough and Sporting ran out of ideas as an increasingly excited crowd expressed their anger at the home side’s efforts.
The tide is turning
Midtjylland tentatively began to show their teeth, Adán held Ashour away with a superb save in the 70th minute.
Things took an ugly turn for them sports inguists in the 77th minute with the same two protagonists involved but a different outcome. The Spaniard’s disastrous clearance went straight to Ashour, with the keeper going wide of his goal. The Egyptian was still way out but the Egyptian showed the last bit of real quality seen that night as he flicked a low 25 yard shot past Coates into the corner of the net before a desperately falling Adán could come back in time.
Cue panic stations for Sporting, with Chermiti, Gonçalo Inácio and Mateo Tanlongo getting into the fray but having little positive impact on the green-whites.
Indeed, Midtjylland, who until then looked like a 7th-place team in the Danish league, grew in confidence and looked more likely to extend their lead than give it up as Adán saved against Isaksen.
Defeat for Sporting looks certain, Marcus Edwards deflected a cross from the left, Inácio hit the head to pass the ball on and Coates bundled the ball into the net on the second try after Jonas Lossl and pushed his first try onto the post.
Sporting will travel to Denmark for the second leg but need to improve significantly to reach the next round.
Who’s to blame?
Credit has to be given to Sporting for never giving up, but tonight they looked like a team shooting in confidence.
Amorim’s men have done well in the Champions League for the most part, as well as against Benfica, Porto and Braga, and have been unlucky in many big games this season.
But it’s against the lesser lights that highlight the squad’s fragility and lack of consistency. Amorim’s constant hacking and staff turnover also suggests he’s far from knowing what his best starting XI is, but it’s unfair to blame the young manager too much.
After two hugely positive campaigns, Sporting, who consistently sell their best performances, have finally caught up with them. João Palhinha, Matheus Nunes and Pedro Porro have all been sold in recent months and failure to replace them adequately has resulted in a memorable season.
From Tom Kundertat the José Alvalade Stadium
[0-1] Emam Ashour, 77′
[1-1] Coats, 90′ + 4′