Leganes and Real Valladolid celebrate promotion as the play-offs kick off in Asturias

segunda division play offs
Real Oviedo host Espanyol in the 1st Leg of the play-off final.

The Segunda Division regular season is over and true to form, it was as tight as ever at the top, with the top four separated by just five points and just ten points splitting the top seven.

Also true to form, Eibar narrowly missed out on promotion with a 3rd place finish. They head into the play-offs for the third season in a row where they’ll meet Real Oviedo who they beat 4-3 in a thriller at Ipurua only last weekend.

Espanyol and Sporting Gijon complete the play-off lineup, but they’re already on their summer break at the Jose Zorrilla and Butarque with Real Valladolid and Leganes sealing a return to the top flight after one and four year absences respectively.

Leganes hobble over the line to win the title

Like many of the big second tiers in Europe, the Segunda Division has frequently served as fertile hunting ground for recently relegated teams from the top flight, but occasionally it throws up a big surprise.

That was certainly the case this season with Leganes appearing from almost nowhere to lead the league from almost start to finish.

Following 3rd, 12th and 14th place finishes in their three seasons since relegation in 2020, Leganes appeared to be a club on a downward spiral, one that would most likely see them settle back in to what might be described as their more natural standing in the Spanish game as a small town club in Madrid’s southern commuter belt.

They were by no means seen as serious promotion candidates back in August and even less so when they stumbled to a 1-0 home defeat against Andorra in their opening fixture.

It was far from the dream start for 39 year old Borja Jimenez, a fascinating case of a coach who effectively bypassed playing professional football to focus on honing his coaching skills throughout his 20’s and 30’s.

He was just 28 when he took charge of hometown club Real Avila and following spells at Mirandes, Cartagena and Depor, it’s at Leganes where he has finally earned his shot at the big time.

After the Andorra loss, Leganes responded with six wins and a draw from their next seven games, assuming pole position by late September. A further five game winning streak in the autumn saw them establish themselves as very much the team that everyone was chasing with a rock solid defence that averaged just 0.64 goals conceded per game their main asset.

It hasn’t always been sparkling at the other end with Miguel de la Fuente top scoring with just 13 goals. There were certainly moments in the campaign when it looked like Leganes were in danger of being caught, not least when they were held to four straight goalless draws in the spring.

However, Los Pepineros held their nerve when it might have been easier to choke, winning three of their final five games and clinching the title on the final weekend with a 2-0 home win over Elche.

Pezzolano overcomes rocky start to deliver in Valladolid

The only side to temporarily move above Leganes between matchdays 11 and 42 was Real Valladolid who have endured a bumpy road back to the top flight under the guidance of Paulo Pezzolano following relegation last year.

The club owned by Brazilian legend Ronaldo were 15th in the top flight when the Uruguayan replaced Pacheta in April 2023. They were 18th in the second tier by mid September with Pezzolano’s methods failing to work and a fanbase baying for blood.

The writing appeared to be on the wall for the former Cruzeiro boss but a 1-0 victory over Cartagena in September was the catalyst for a five game winning streak that saw Las Blanquivioletas quickly climb the table and into the promotion picture.

Even as results picked up, Pezzolano was hardly Mr Popular at the Jose Zorrilla which has been a toxic place at times during the 2023/24 campaign. Yet promotion was ultimately clinched with a game to spare and came courtesy of a dramatic late comeback against Villarreal B with 91st and 97th minute goals sealing a 3-2 win in their final home fixture.

Pezzolano’s bizarre response to the boo boys was to attempt to lead a chant calling for his own resignation at the club’s promotion parade.

He has since apologised and reaffirmed his commitment for next season but even fresh from winning promotion to LaLiga for the fifth time this century, these still feel like uncertain times in Valladolid and given his fractured relationship with the fanbase, Pezzolano’s future at the Jose Zorrilla may not be a long one.

2023/24 Segunda Division play-offs – A very Asturian affair

It has also been a pretty turbulent campaign for another of the sides to drop out of the top flight in 2023 with pre-season promotion favourites Espanyol failing to secure a top two finish despite a squad blessed with a number of players who should really be operating at higher level. That includes 22-goal Martin Braithwaite who finished well clear as the Segunda Division’s top scorer.

Espanyol sacked two coaches in pursuit of the automatic promotion they so badly craved. The current incumbent Manolo Gonzalez is unbeaten in his 12 games since taking over in March, but with eight of those finishing level, the Catalan club have actually dropped a place since firing Luis Miguel Ramis.

They must now prepare to face Sporting Gijon in Asturias which will be the setting for the first legs of both play-off semi-finals this weekend.

Sporting are another club under the guidance of one of a new breed of Spanish coaches who have not played the game professionally with Miguel Angel Ramirez starting his coaching career as a teenager with Las Palmas before ultimately getting his shot at a top job in the unlikely location of Ecuador in 2019.

Following spells in Brazil and the United States, he has returned to Spain to spark a revival in Sporting’s fortunes following successive 17th place finishes. Sporting are perhaps the team with the greatest sense of momentum heading into the play-offs with 1-0 wins over Eibar and Eldense ensuring they finished in the top six for the first time since the 2017/18 season.

They are joined by Asturian rivals Real Oviedo who secured their highest league finish since suffering relegation from the top flight back in 2001. They dropped as low as the fourth tier in the years that followed as the club teetered on the brink of extinction, but there has been much more stability in recent years, with a reputation as the Segunda Division’s nearly men with six finishes between 7th and 9th since they won promotion from the Segunda B in 2015.

With Luis Carrion at the helm and the return of Santi Cazorla adding to the feel-good factor at the Carlos Tartiere, Oviedo will be rocking this weekend as they attempt to overcome an Eibar side that also knows a thing or two when it comes to near misses in this league.

The Basques finished 3rd for the second time in three years with their 4-3 win over the Asturian side last weekend not enough for automatic promotion. The play-offs do not bring happy memories for them and they’ll need to brush off the ghosts of recent failures if they’re to make it back to the top flight.

Eibar are not lacking in firepower with their 72-goal return comfortably the best in the division and they’ve rattled in 19 in a six game winning streak at Ipurua heading into the play-offs.

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About Mark Sochon 2075 Articles
Mark is a freelance writer based in Madrid. He has been writing about Spanish football since 2014 and regularly attends and covers matches across Spain. His work has also been published by various newspapers and websites including These Football Times, World Soccer and Guardian Sport. Available for freelance work: marksochon (at) hotmail.co.uk