New coach, same old problems. Well, more or less. At least the game was won, but if anybody thought that Juan Carlos Garrido would be able to wave a magic wand and instantly turn this group of players into worldbeaters they would have ended up sadly disappointed. Playing against 10 men for very nearly the entire 90 minutes, Betis needed some kind refereeing decisions and a calamitous goalkeeping error to scrape past a Segunda B side (You can see all the goals here.) While it's lovely to win, it's obvious that neither Celta de Vigo or Athletic Bilbao, our prospective opponents if we can hold on in the return leg, will be quaking with fear.
The game's key moment arrived as early as the 4th minute, when Lleida goalkeeper came out a fraction late for a challenge on Jorge Molina, upended the Betis No. 19 in the penalty area and was, unfairly in my view, shown a red card for preventing a (debatable) goalscoring chance. Perhaps Molina was feeling a little sheepish about the dismissal himself because he then hit the tamest possible penalty at new keeper Perales, who saved comfortably.
Not surprisingly, then, when a Lleida handled the ball in the area 20 minutes later - an offence that none of the Betis players seemed to spot, incidentally - it was not Molina but Joan Verdú who stepped forward to take the visitors' second spot-kick of the game. He scored, but only just, as his Panenka-style chip was so feeble that Perales was very nearly able to parry it, even after his initial dive. The Lleida players and fans decided that Verdú's trickery was unsporting and demeaning and eventually he had to be dragged into his own half by teammates before a full-scale fight was started. (Frankly, I suspect there were plenty of Béticos urging at least one Lleida defender to try his luck with a right hook; Verdú isn't covering himself with glory just now.)
So, 1-0 after 25 minutes, and the lead was doubled shortly before half-time when goalkeeper Perales, who'd actually made several good saves earlier, messed up an attempted punch and presented Molina with the easiest of volleys into the net from about four yards out.
The home side got a goal back on 57 minutes when the linesman failed to spot a clearly offside forward, but other than that the second half passed almost entirely without incident, which may or may not be a good thing, depending on how you look at it. Certainly, Garrido and his players will be confident of being able to protect a 2-1 lead in the return leg, which takes place on December 18th.
Was there any improvement? Hard to say, although I did get the impression that there was a touch more intensity and a smidgen less fannying around in midfield than of late, at least in the first half. But for all that Betis did play exactly the same formation in Garrido's first game as they have under Pepe Mel lately, with the same problem of not having enough bodies in support of Jorge Molina upfront. And once again a host of chances were wasted, which has been our biggest problem all season.
Needless to say, it felt very strange not to see Pepe Mel in the Betis technical area - and even more so at the pre-match tribute to Miki Roqué, to which the young footballer's parents, sister and nephew had been invited. Mel might have been a very decent coach, but he was an even better ambassador for the club at events like that - which is just another reason he will be missed.
Betis: Andersen; Chica, Paulao, Jordi Figueras, Nacho; Lolo Reyes, Nono (Xavi Torres, min. 87), Verdú (Salva Sevilla, min. 78); Juanfran, Juan Carlos (Chuli, min. 64) y Jorge Molina.
Goals: 0-1, min. 26: Verdú (pen.); 0-2, min. 43: Jorge Molina; 1-2, min. 57: Pere Milla;