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Nico Castillo guides Pumas to thrilling win

Pumas UNAM v Puebla - Torneo Clausura 2018 Liga MX Photo by Manuel Velasquez/Getty Images

Nico Castillo scored a hat-trick to lead Pumas to a comeback victory at home against Puebla. Pumas played one of the best games of the season, as they came back from being down in the score and then down a man to give themselves three points that might be key in their fight for a place in the Liguilla. Pumas will now travel to Torreon to face Santos, while Puebla, who were handed their fifth straight loss, will go back home to face America.

Pumas came into this game knowing they needed a victory to keep their chances alive for a place in the Liguilla. Pumas started dominating a Puebla team that seemed at total freefall. Puebla, like Pumas , had a wonderful start to the season but was coming in with four straight losses.

Pablo Barrera was the first to come close with a great play. Barrera went through two Puebla defenders and then hit his shot off the post. Jesus Gallardo got to the rebound, but his shot was cleared off the line by a Puebla defender. A couple of minutes later, Kevin Escamilla had a long range shot wonderfully saved by goalkeeper Nicolas Vikonis.

While Pumas had been dominating, Puebla was the one to open the scoring. A defensive mistake left the ball at the feet of Lucas Cavallini. Cavallini calmy slotted it past Pumas goalkeeper Alfredo Saldivar for the 1-0.

Pumas still kept at it, and in the last play of the half, they tied it. In what was a controversial play, as the attack started from a ball that look like it had crossed the sideline, Barrera went through the right side and sent back to ball to Marcelo Diaz, who crossed it to Nico Castillo. Between Castillo and the Puebla defender, the ball was brought down for Nico to shoot and tie the game. The 1-1 was controversial but just.

The second half kept the pace of the game, with Pumas dominating. Still, the first chance came from a shot by Puebla defender Bryan Angulo. Pumas responded with an ensuing corner allowing for a counter attack in which Barrera shot and Vikonis stopped for a corner. Jesus Gallardo would later on make a marvelous cross that went straight into the head of Matias Alustiza. The short forward headed it to give Pumas the 2-1 lead.

Pumas then had their best spell of the game, as they took complete control. Vikonis had to make some good saves, especially one against Matias Alustiza. Then the game changed when Mauro Formica got a red card for Pumas. Formica lost a ball and went for it, but the play looked at most to be a yellow card, not a red card.

Almost immediately, Puebla tied the game with a header by Cavallini. The man down really hurt Pumas and Puebla took control of the game. Cavallini made a great play in the area but hit the post. To make matters worse, Castillo got clearly taken down in the are, but the ref failed to give a penalty to Pumas.

It suddenly looked bad for the Universitarios, but off a corner kick, the ball fell to Castillo and his strong shot got deflected to give Pumas the 3-2 lead. Pumas then sat back and held on against a Puebla team that went into full attack mode. In the final minute of play, a cleared ball fell to Pablo Barrera, who made a great pass to Castillo. The Chilean was alone in the middle and finished to give his team the 4-2 win.

This win is a big deal for Pumas, as it gave them three key points for their hopes of making the postseason. Even a bigger deal wasn’t the win but how they got there. Pumas came back not only from trailing, but also from bad calls from the ref. This is especially big after losing at Monterrey in what many thought was a horrid ref display against them.

Pumas will now play all their hopes in Torreon. Their final game is at home to the weaker Queretaro, but it will be tough if they don’t get the points against Santos, who already qualified to the Liguilla. Puebla, meanwhile, seemed to have wasted their chances. With this fifth straight loss, coupled with a tough home game against America, it seems like Puebla’s season is almost done.