Andoni Iraola’s hosts came into the clash looking to boost their hopes of European qualification after a fine campaign thus far, and they made a confident start as Oscar Trejo beautifully spun away from his marker before firing over. No side in the division had claimed fewer points since the start of April than Espanyol prior to kick-off but, keen to put their woes behind them, they grew into the contest and started to pose questions through talisman Joselu, who saw a powerful effort beaten away by Stole Dimitrievski.
The Parakeets continued to improve and ultimately struck gold midway through the first half. After Rayo twice failed to clear their defensive lines, Sergi Darder was first to react to a loose ball and rifled his effort into the far corner to break the deadlock. Perhaps indicative of their season as a whole, though, the visitors surrendered their lead before the interval following a defensive error of their own. Oscar Gil’s handball in the area was penalised, and forward Raul de Tomas confidently converted from 12 yards against his former club to level the scoreline.
Still, Luis Garcia’s men could consider themselves unlucky not to be ahead at the break as Dimitrievski produced a world-class reaction save to turn Sergi Gomez’s header around the post. Rayo looked to make the most of that let-off as chances continued to flow after the restart, but Isi Palazon spurned a huge chance, lifting over from close range following some brilliant play from Real Madrid bound full-back Fran Garcia down the left.
That miss was quickly punished, as Darder spearheaded a brutal Espanyol counterattack to restore their advantage. The captain shrugged off two challenges before curling an effort against the post, with Nico Melamed reacting quickest to sweep home the rebound. Protecting the lead was of more importance to the visitors than pushing forward, but Javi Puado wasted a glorious chance to extend their advantage late on as he missed the target when played through on goal.
However, his profligacy went unpunished as Espanyol claimed a priceless victory that reignites their survival bid - they now sit just a point adrift of safety with three matchdays remaining. For Rayo, though, a first defeat on home soil in four outings could be a fatal blow to their continental ambitions, especially with difficult fixtures against Real Madrid and Villarreal still to come.