The Basque side move to within a point of sixth with victory, but have to scrap a win after the visitors put in a spirited display
Athletic Bilbao defeated Mallorca 1-0 in Sunday afternoon's La Liga clash at San Mames, to maintain their hopes of reaching the Champions League next season.
Fernando Llorente put the home side ahead early on with a header from a free-kick, and the visitors could not find an equaliser.
With the first leg of the Europa League semi-final versus Sporting in Lisbon to look forward to next week, there was a carnival atmosphere inside San Mames, and it only took 13 minutes for the home support to have something to cheer.
A free-kick by Ibai Gomez from the right was whipped into the danger area, and Llorente headed in his seventeenth goal in the league this season, through the legs of Dudu Aouate. Athletic were in front and looking comfortable, playing some fantastic flowing football.
On 25 minutes, Oscar De Marcos and Ibai combined superbly on the right wing with quick passing, and Ibai was unlucky that his cross was slightly miscued. Ibai was proving to be a handful for the away side, and with ten minutes of the half left, he had a shot blocked from just inside the area.
Mallorca were coming off the back of one of their best performances of the season last weekend, beating Racing Santander 3-0. But they were only showing the form of last week in flashes. Near the end of the half, Pedro Bigas turned superbly outside the area and hit a left foot shot against the foot of the post.
The visitors were growing in confidence. Yet Bilbao were still looking dangerous in attack. With four minutes of the half left, Llorente cut in from the left, teeing up Ibai, who blazed his effort over the crossbar from outside the area.
Los Bermellones were seeking an equaliser, but they were only being allowed speculative efforts by the hosts. Michael Pereira had a shot that sailed wide early in the second half, and he then headed just over from a corner. They were also leaving gaps at the back.
Bilbao attempted to exploit these gaps when De Marcos’s chipped cross bounced in the box and Ibai volleyed into the side-netting. Then a few minutes later Llorente should have doubled his tally. Ibai sent in a delightful cross from the left with the outside of his foot, and Llorente flicked the ball past Aouate, but past the post as well.
Los Leones could not find that second goal to make the game safe. With time ticking away, Igor Gabilondo crossed from the left, and Markel Susaeta headed just over the bar. Then in stoppage time, Gaizka Toquero found himself through on goal, and he lifted the ball over the keeper, but the ball rebounded off the bar.
With victory, Marcelo Bielsa’s team are still an outside bet for finishing in a European place this season, moving a single point away from sixth place. Despite the defeat, Joaquin Caparros’s side have defied the odds this season and are in 13th position, 12 points above the relegation zone.