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;
New boss Juan Carlos Garrido really couldn't hope for a more gentle introduction to life on the Betis bench than this. And it was designed that way, of course. Pepe Mel received his marching orders this particular week because two important conditions came together for the Betis board of directors: the team had spent five consecutive games in the relegation zone (which triggered a clause in Mel's contract meaning they would only have to pay him half a season of his four-year contract) and the next game was a long way from Seville, limiting the personal abuse they might expect to receive themselves.
Ironically, of course, they have that same dearly departed Pepe Mel to thank for the fact that Betis are starting their Copa del Rey campaign against a Segunda B (third-tier) side, as that privilege was reserved for Europe-qualified sides. Lleida, up near Barcelona, are currently fifth in their regional league, but over two legs shouldn't prove too much of an obstacle for what will probably be a fuller-strength Betis side than they were expecting, as Garrido hasn't got time to waste in his efforts to turn things around. The headline team news, however, is that Rubén Castro has been judged not worth risking and has stayed home in Seville, leaving Jorge Molina and Chuli as the only strikers in the 16-man squad. Cedrick, Steinhöfer, Sergio Rodríguez and Matilla have also been left out, with the latter a particularly notable omission as he spent several years working with Garrido at Villareal and is thought to be the Betis player the new boss knows best.
On the other hand, Javi Chica is back in the squad after being out of favour since getting himself sent off (at great cost to the team) against Levante at the end of October. The usually reliable El País newspaper this week mentioned rumours that the lumbering right-back had been at the head of a cabal of mostly Catalan players who'd campaigned to have Pepe Mel sacked - a charge Joan Verdú was forced to deny yesterday - and he can probably expect a hot reception when he next appears at the Villamarín. Sadly, when you consider the four Catalans included in today's squad - Chica, Verdú, Dídac Vila and Jordi Figueras - it's clear they share more than a regional heritage; the other thing they have in common is that they've been very average so far this season.
No-one knows what team Juan Carlos Garrido will send out today, but it's clear he'll be wanting to get off on the right foot so expect a higher level of intensity than you would expect from the away leg of a Copa del Rey early-round game. Listen out for the "Pepe Mel, Pepe Mel" chants, too, as the verdiblancos are always incredibly well supported in Catalonia and there's no reason to expect that Catalan Béticos - players excepted, obviously - are any less pro the old boss than the rest of us.
I'm not quite sure why this weekend has been given over to cup games, but the reason this fixture is being played on a Friday lunchtime is that it's a public holiday here today (yay). The tie is also doubling up as a tribute to the late Miki Roqué, who grew up nearby and played in the club's youth team before joining Liverpool aged 17. I think you'll agree that the poster produced to promoted the game, shown above, is thoroughly charming.
The king is dead, long live the...Pah, sod that. Viva el Betis, manque pierda - let's leave it at that for now.
Well, I never: it turns out that not one but two balding, fiftysomething icons of Seville football have been kicked out this week. News has just come through that Sevilla FC president Jose Del Nido has been sentenced to seven years in prison for his part (via his day job as a high-profile lawyer) in the Marbella town hall corruption scandal. Although it's not thought he will start his little vacation behind bars till after Christmas, it already seems taken for granted that his football club are looking for a new head honcho. We can't gloat too much as Del Nido could well be joined by his former opposite number at Betis before very long - and, anyway, Sevillistas had long since tired of him - but it's still a good story.
So, you've got a friend, someone you've known for years, and he rings you one day to tell you he's met someone new - let's call her Pepa - and he thinks she might be the one. You're not sure at first, but you soon realise they're the perfect couple and couldn't be more delighted when they announce they're moving in together. Several years of love and happiness follow and when, for reasons that you don't quite understand, they eventually decide to split, you're heartbroken. Your friend, though, seems to recover with almost indecent haste and is soon wanting to introduce you to his latest squeeze - let's call her Juanita - whom he says you'll just love. Now, at this point isn't there a bit of you that decides you're never going to accept this new girl, simply out of loyalty to Pepa, whom you got on with so well for so many years? Deep down, you probably know you're being unreasonable, but it's still hard.
Well, I'd say that's about where we are with new Betis coach Juan Carlos Garrido, who was presented to the press today by Miguel Guillén. He could be God's gift to football management for all we know - and yet he still wouldn't be Pepe Mel. In theory we should be getting behind him, giving him a chance, uniting behind the team and all that, but it's all still a bit raw. He didn't help his cause with a debut press conference that was 100 per cent football coach cliché-speak - to a backdrop of fans outside singing "Garrido, we don't want you" - and he'd better get the team winning quickly or he's got no chance of lasting till Easter.
What do we know about him? He's 44, from Valencia, and one of those new coaches like Wenger, Mourinho and Villas Boas who was never even a half-decent player. He made his name getting the Villareal B team promoted to Segunda, where they usually gave Betis a tricky game, before he was later made first-team manager. In his first full season he took the Yellow Submarine up to fourth - no mean feat - but was sacked the following December after the club's European games seemed to catch up with them (sound familiar?). He was subsequently appointed coach of Bruges, from where I've heard mixed reports - could one of our Belgian readers fill in the details?
In other words, he's an interesting enough candidate, even if not a cast-iron certainty. Villareal's ex-Bético striker Jonathan Pereira has tweeted "Wishing all the luck in the world at Real Betis to Juan Carlos Garrido, a great trainer and better person" but as Pereira was one of the few players to fall out with Pepe Mel, perhaps we should take that with a pinch of salt. Personally, I reserve the right to withold my support just for the time being; mostly I find I'm kinda with Lee Ann Womack...
Pepe Mel, meanwhile, has today given a series of gracious, good-humoured radio interviews - "the football world is like a ladies' hairdressers' salon, so I knew they were talking to Garrido; when they called me to a meeting I didn't think it was to give me a raise" - in which he refused to blame anyone but himself - "I didn't need explanations, you just have to look at the league table". He affirmed time and time again his heartfelt passion for the club, and claimed that while he wouldn't be returning to the Villamarín as a fan - "the club needs tranquility" - he did intend to stay living in Seville for the time being. "I must be a masochist," he said.
In reality, of course, he's likely to be snapped up before too long - perhaps by Valencia, who have long casted covetous eyes towards him and are down in 9th under unpopular new boss Miroslav Dukic. And a couple of good years there would make his ultimate dream of managing in England a distinct possibility - which in turn would prevent him from returning to Betis, which everyone seems to think will happen at some point, for a good long while.
And in the middle of all this, the players are preparing for a game on Friday - the Copa del Rey first leg away against Lleida. As you might remember, it's also being regarded as a tribute to Miki Roqué, one of countless young players given their chance in the last three and a half years by, well, you know who.