Liga - Atletico overcome nerves to beat Elche

Atletico Madrid moved closer to their first Spanish championship win in 19 years after a 2-0 win over struggling Elche opened up a temporary six-point lead over nearest challengers Real Madrid.

Liga - Atletico overcome nerves to beat Elche

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Atletico Madrid's Diego Costa (R) and Elche's Cristian Sapunaru fight for the ball (Reuters)

The Liga leaders laboured in the attacking front, but Brazilian defender Miranda found the net on 72 minutes from a corner, before Diego Costa scored his 27th league goal of the season from the spot in added time.

Elche defender Christian Sapunaru was dismissed for the foul in stoppage time, having also conceded a spot-kick earlier in the half, which Manu Herrera saved from David Villa.

But it was far from the one-sided spectacle expected following the pre-match boost that Diego Costa had shaken off last week’s bloodied knee to keep his place in the starting line-up. The early start was encouraging on the eye, but failed to conjure up scoring opportunities with the visitors on the ropes.

Elche’s unsettled start was over, however, by the quarter of an hour mark and they were in control for long periods. They were asking questions of Belgian keeper Thibaut Courtois who was forced into an important fingertip stop from Juan Marquez’s 30-yard strike in the 24th minute.

From the following corner, Courtois made a reaction stop at his near-post from Sapunaru’s header. Four minutes later, Carlos Gil passed up a massive opportunity, fluffing his lines when he was presented with a one-on-one against the towering Belgian who is on loan from Chelsea.

Only in sporadic bursts did Atletico show the required potency. On 41 minutes, Juanfran crossed for Costa who misjudged his header and then his strike-partner Villa continued his run of never scoring against the opposition, missing from a few yards out.

Diego Simeone sent his players out a few minutes early for the second period after some choice words at the break. He shuffled his pack, somewhat, with Raul Garcia replacing Adrian at the break – and it led to an immediate impact.

The home side began overpowering their opponents and Garcia won a penalty off Sapunaru in the 48th minute. However, Villa’s spot-kick was straight down the throat of Herrera who saved his first kick from 12 yards in the top flight.

Simeone turned to his bench once again towards the hour mark with Diego and Jose Sosa the final roll of the dice from the Argentine coach.

And 19 minutes from the final whistle, Miranda popped up at the far-post with a superb header from the most awkward of angles to beat Herrera and send the home fans into an explosion of joy.

While Elche added a second – and third – striker to their attack in a bid to snatch a point out of the game, Atletico made the game safe in the closing stages, taking advantage of some poor defending.

Romanian left-back Sapunaru was shown his marching orders after conceding his second penalty kick on 89 minutes – and this time Diego Costa stepped up to convert.

Atletico Madrid only need to win their next three league matches of the final four to win the Spanish title. 

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