Veteran striker Cristhian Stuani came off the bench to rally Girona past Valencia in a 2-1 win that put the season’s surprise package back on top of the Spanish league on Saturday.
The 37-year-old Stuani started the stunning comeback with a goal in the 82nd minute from a cross by fellow substitute Yan Couto.
Girona took the lead in the 88th when another cross by Couto intended for Stuani appeared to be turned into the goal by Valencia defender Cristhian Mosquera, although the league's website credited Stuani with the goal. Stuani himself said that he believed it was an own goal.
Girona moved three points clear of Real Madrid, which holds the head-to-head tiebreaker with Girona, before the powerhouse hosts the relegation-threatened Granada later.
“The team showed its pride in this victory,” Stuani said. “We are living a dream, fighting right up there at the top, and we will give it our all to stay there."
The former Uruguay striker joined Girona from Middlesbrough in 2017. He has since become Girona’s all-time goalscorer and fan favorite after helping it return to the first division in 2022. As he has aged, Stuani has become a valuable weapon off the bench, especially thanks to his knack for scoring from crosses.
“We made a mistake that made the game an uphill battle, but we threw everything we had into the game and it worked thanks to Stuani, who was great,” Girona coach Míchel Sánchez said. “Stu is the smartest player in the area. When we put the ball in the box, he always appears. I am happy for him. He is the most loved player in Girona.”
Ninth-placed Valencia had taken the lead against the flow of play at Girona's Montilivi Stadium when Hugo Duro capitalized on a defensive error in the 56th. Duro broke free when he ran onto a pass that Girona defender David López had unwisely let roll past him before chipping goalkeeper Paulo Gazzaniga.
Girona is partly owned Manchester City’s Abu Dhabi ownership, but its salary cap for players is only the 13th biggest in the 20-team league with the list topped by Madrid at 727 million euros ($795 million).
Barcelona hosts Atletico Madrid on Sunday with both teams seven points behind Girona. Atletico also has another game in hand.