BILBAO, Spain–Real Sociedad fought back to claim a long-coveted 3-1 victory at Athletic Bilbao on Friday in the 66th and final Basque Country derby to be played at San Mames stadium.
Bilbao bossed the opening stages of the match and went ahead through Ibai Gomez’s vicious volley at the half-hour mark.
But Antoine Griezmann headed Sociedad level four minutes later, and striker Imanol Agirretxe then gave the visitors the lead in the 66th thanks to an error by goalkeeper Raul Fernandez. Substitute Carlos Vela added another goal 10 minutes later.
Sociedad’s first win at Bilbao since 2001 provisionally lifted it into fifth place in the Spanish league. Philippe Montanier’s side is on a seven-game unbeaten streak and has only one loss in the last 15 rounds.
“It had been a long time,” said Sociedad’s veteran midfielder Xabi Prieto. “We came in playing well so we knew it was possible, and we are leaving in great spirits.”
Inaugurated in 1913, San Mames is scheduled to be torn down after 100 years and replaced by a new stadium at the end of this season.
The first Basque Country derby was played here in 1929. The final tally for derbies at the veteran stadium rests at 37 wins for Bilbao, 12 wins for Sociedad, and 17 draws.
Prieto remained cautiously optimistic about his team’s chances of making a top-six finish and qualifying for either the Champions League or Europa League next season.
“We will see. We are playing well,” he said. “We are near the top now and on a very good run.”
Bilbao’s third straight defeat left Marcelo Bielsa’s team in 15th place and just six points from the relegation zone.
Bilbao could not have asked for a better start with Gomez smashing Jon Aurtenetxe’s cross into the top of the net after Aritz Aduriz and Mikel San Jose had both come close with headers.
Sociedad, however, responded in perfect fashion with Chori Castro picking out Griezmann floating free at the far post to turn his lobbed pass into the net.
Both defenses then appeared to have settled down until Fernandez, Bilbao’s little-used goalkeeper, gifted Sociedad the goal that proved to be the winner. Fernandez failed to pull in or punch out a routine cross that bounced off his chest, letting Agirretxe send the ball ricocheting off both players before it trickled over the goalline.
“It was one of those lapses that in the first division costs you a goal,” said Fernandez, who made his second straight start in place of longtime starter Gorka Iraizoz, who had been benched for his irregular play.
With Bilbao demoralized, Vela sealed the result with a shot just inside the upright for his 11th goal of the season.
After the final whistle, the Sociedad players all went to the corner of the pitch where their fans were seated to celebrate the win.
“Not many of our fans could make it because there weren’t many tickets on sale, but those who did were well compensated,” Prieto said.