October 3, 2023

Elche ended its excruciatingly long wait for a win in the Spanish league on Saturday after Pere Milla scored a hat trick to beat Villarreal 3-1 at home.

Last-placed Elche, a modest club from southern Spain, endured the entire first half of the league without a single win.

The victory finally came in Round 20 against a Villarreal side that beat Real Madrid last month and is fighting for a Champions League berth.

Elche, playing under its third coach of the campaign, will still need a major turnaround to avoid relegation. It has just nine points and sits 11 points from safety.

“Anything is possible,” Elche goalkeeper Édgar Badia said of his team’s hopes of staying in the top-flight for a fourth consecutive season.

“Our mentality is game by game and not look ahead. We have the second half of the season ahead and it is not time to think about the past.”

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Milla, playing in his fourth season at Elche, was injured after his treble and had to be carried off on a stretcher in the 58th minute. He had a suspected broken collarbone.

Milla opened the scoring when he fired a deflected ball past Pepe Reina three minutes after kickoff in Elche.

Gerard Moreno equalized in the 22nd with his eighth goal across all competitions from a pass by Álex Baena.

But Milla converted two penalties in the 48th and 52nd to ensure the 18,000 fans who turned out could finally have a reason to celebrate. The spectators did the wave at Martinez Valero Stadium in the final minutes of the game.

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“I haven’t been here that long, but I know the players and the club workers, and of course our fans who never abandoned us, who believed this win would come, and this is for them,” said manager Pablo Machín, who took over in November.

Villarreal stayed in fifth place, three points from the Champions League positions, after a second straight loss for Quique Setién’s team.

“We made too many mistakes and when you do that you pay for it,” Villarreal defender Raúl Albiol said. “It was a bad day for the entire team. They played harder than we did, so they are the rightful winners.”

Also, Espanyol came back to draw at home with Osasuna 1-1 in a game both teams finished with 10 men after their players received second bookings shortly before halftime.

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