Sporting Clube de Portugal picked up a valuable 3 points away to Rio Ave after having almost thrown the game away entirely in a hugely entertaining encounter in Vila do Conde.
Sporting made the best possible start that they could have imagined. After only 90 seconds a corner hit low by Elias was smashed into the net by Stijn Schaars, the Dutch midfielder scoring his first goal for his new club.
Just seconds after the restart and Sporting were at it again. This time a floated Diego Capel cross fell to the feet of Ricky van Wolfswinkel, the other Sporting Dutchman making no mistake from close range.
Things looked even worse for Rio Ave not long after that. A clash between Oguchi Onyewu and João Tomas left the Rio Ave player worse. Onyewu’s trailing foot hitting the forward in the nose, meaning the veteran forward was to be replaced by Christian Atsu.
To their credit, Rio Ave did not let the initial disappointing start affect the way they went about the rest of the half. As the half drew on the home side got into the game more and more and started to create chances.
Sporting certainly took their foot of the pedal too and a few moments will be a cause for concern for Domingos Paciência. Especially the two mix ups involving Rui Patrício, who had a very poor game by his standards. The first, a miscommunication between the goalkeeper and João Pereira that could have resulted in Christian Atsu pouncing to tap the ball home.
The second mistake by Patrício could also have ended in a Rio Ave goal. After 37 minutes Rio Ave were heartily starting to take the game back to a lackadaisical Sporting side. A Rio Ave ball crossed into the box and Rui Patrício wildly missed his opportunity to claim the ball giving Tarantini a chance of a free header that just went wide of Patricio’s left hand post.
It meant that returning the dressing rooms at half-time, Rio Ave had the morale victory. In spite of their terrible opening 5 minutes, Carlos Brito’s side had ended the half on top of the play.
Rio Ave started the second half brightly too, and on the 49th minute the substitute Christian Atsu pulled one back for the home side. His shot from a tight angle on the left hand side of goal should have been parried away by Rui Patrício, but the Sporting goalkeeper failed to get a strong enough hand to it and it flew past him to give Rio Ave even more hope.
Oguchi Onyewu and Sporting could count very lucky that Onyewu was not sent off. Shortly after the goal, he fouled Christian Atsu in a good position on the edge of the penalty box. Onyewu had already picked up a yellow card in the first half and the referee, Hugo Miguel, who had been happy to book players throughout the game, surprisingly did not produce a second yellow for the American.
Domingos Paciência could see that Rio Ave were now having the better of the game and made his first change in reaction, bringing on the more defensive-minded Bruno Pereirinha on for André Carrillo.
Rio Ave though continued go for the second goal, pushing forward at every opportunity and pressuring the Sporting players high up the pitch. This meant that Sporting were trying to grab a third goal through pace on the counter attacks. Paciência’s side went close too, with Ricky van Wolfswinkel having a close range shot well blocked by the Haitian right back Jean Sony.
On the 63rd minute Rio Ave got their well-deserved equaliser and this time Patrício was certainly not to blame. On the left hand side again Christian Atsu did well to get the ball past Bruno Pereirinha and fizzed in a low cross that Yazalde beat the Sporting defence to get on the end to and beat the goalkeeper from close range.
Conceding the equaliser meant now Sporting had to push forwards and were unlucky not to take the lead just 2 minutes later when João Pereira sent a low cross that Ricky van Wolfswinkel only marginally failed to make contact with.
Diego Capel was next to go close for Sporting, his shot from the left hand was well saved by goalkeeper Paulo Santos and went out for a corner in the 74th minute. Capel took the resulting corner and Oguchi Onyewu, the man who was fortunate not to have been sent off, powerfully rose above the Rio Ave players to head home and restore Sporting’s lead.
It went to bad to worse for Rio Ave yet again minutes later when Jean Sony was given his second yellow card of the match after a dive, meaning Rio Ave had to try and come back at Sporting again with just 10 men.
Just seconds after the sending off came a moment that summed up Rui Patrício’s night perfectly. A simple back pass towards the goalkeeper took a huge bobble off of the Estádio do Rio Ave pitch meaning Patricio was left kicking thin air. Sporting were lucky this happened just wide of the goalmouth and Patrício avoided further embarrassment.
At the next break of play, Carlos Brito reacted to Sony’s sending off by bringing on midfielder Braga on for Kelvin to make sure that his Rio Ave did not concede again. Domingos too reacted, bringing on André Santos for Elias.
Rio Ave were less of a threat to Sporting whilst down to 10 men but in the very last moments of the game certainly had chances to grab an equaliser. Firstly, Tiago Pinto found himself in room on the left hand side and fired a hard shot at goal but Patricio redeemed himself somewhat by making a strong save to turn the ball round the post for a corner.
With the last throw of the dice Tarantini went close to as he just missed out on connecting to a cross but it was not to be and Sporting return to Lisbon with the 3 points.
Sporting appear to have not quite turned the corner yet. Domingos Paciência will certainly be worried about the attitude of his players after having gone 2-0 down to 2-2, but there is room for improvement as the team continues to gel together.
The result may not be perfect but there certainly are positives with some of the players on the pitch. Diego Capel, Ricky van Wolfswinkel and Fabián Rinaudo all had particularly good games, with Rinaudo perhaps Sporting’s best player on the pitch.
SPORTING XI: Rui Patrício (YC); João Pereira (YC), Alberto Rodríguez, Oguchi Onyewu (Scored 74′, YC), Emiliano Insúa; Fabián Rinaudo (YC), Stijn Schaars (Scored 2′, YC), Elias (YC) (André Santos 79′); André Carrillo (Bruno Pereirinha 54′), Ricky van Wolfswinkel (Scored 3′), Diego Capel (Matías Fernández 85′)
Subs Not Used: Marcelo Boeck, Ânderson Polga, Evaldo Fabiano, Valeri Bojinov