BARCELONA, Spain – Playing a man down and without its top scorer, Real Sociedad turned to a 21-year-old reserve player to score a clutch goal that was good for a three-point lead of the Spanish league.
Substitute Julen Lobete became an instant fan favorite at an Anoeta Stadium filled to capacity for the first time in more than a year and a half when he scored a 90th-minute winner to edge Mallorca 1-0 on Saturday.
Lobete went on in the 66th minute with his team struggling to generate chances. After receiving a through ball from fellow substitute Martin Zubimendi, the young striker cut back to his right foot and struck a powerful shot that goalkeeper Manolo Reina got a hand on but couldn't keep out.
Sociedad had barely made Reina work even before it lost left back Aihen Munoz to a second yellow card in the final seconds of the first half. Even then, the visitors looked set to earn a hard-earned draw until Lobete struck. It was Lobete's second goal with Sociedad's first team.
"It feels amazing to score this goal in this stadium with all our fans," said Lobete, who fell to the turf and wept after the final whistle. "I was crying from joy because this is amazing. I will think about it all night."
The victory moved Sociedad three points clear of Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid, who had their games this weekend postponed to give more rest time to players returning from international duty in South America.
Sociedad has lost only once this season when it fell to Barcelona in their opener in August.
With regional health authorities allowing the 40,000-seat Anoeta Stadium at full capacity for the first time since the start of the pandemic, Sociedad chose the night to present to its fans the Copa del Rey it won last April. That victory over fierce regional rival Athletic Bilbao ended Sociedad's 33-year wait for a title.
Sociedad was without striker Mikel Oyarzabal after he injured a right-leg muscle in practice the day before. Oyarzabal is enjoying a breakout year with his club and Spain. His six league goals this season are second only to Karim Benzema's nine.
"They played very well but we knew that we would have our chances," Sociedad coach Imanol Alguacil said. "Our effort paid off and I am very happy with the win. It was great to feel this atmosphere with our fans again."
DEBUTS WITH DRAW
Levante and Getafe remained the only teams in the Liga yet to win after drawing 0-0 in a match that featured debuts for new coaches on both sides.
Quique Sanchez Flores started his third stint at Getafe after he replaced the fired Michel Gonzalez. Sanchez Flores made his first-division coaching debut with Getafe in 2004. He had a brief and unsuccessful return to the modest Madrid-based club in 2015.
Javier Pereira likewise replaced Paco Lopez, Levante's long-time coach, during the two-week international break.
Veteran striker Roberto Soldado returned for his first action after injuring his right leg in Levante's season opener. Levante was without striker Roger Marti, who was ruled out hours before the game due to a heel injury.
Both teams were left in the relegation zone.