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Last Updated: Thursday, 22 September 2005, 23:01 GMT 00:01 UK
Where Woody went wrong
By John Sinnott

Jonathan Woodgate

Jonathan Woodgate has had to wait a long time to make his Real Madrid debut - it has been 516 days since he had last played a competitive match.

Given that absence his return was always going to be memorable, but few would have predicted him marking it with an own goal and being sent off.

At first everything went swimmingly well with Woodgate passing and heading confidently as Athletic Bilbao pressed.

He also shut off a dangerous run from Athletic striker Joseba Etxeberria.

But on 25 minutes Woodgate's return took its first nasty turn as Exteberria unleashed a shot that the England international craned his neck to clear only to spectacularly head past goalkeeper Iker Casillas.

As a hush descended upon the Bernabeu stadium Woodgate looked visibly ashen-faced.

He had moved to Real over a year ago with the Spanish club buying him from Newcastle for 13.4m.

Injury to Ivan Helguera and a suspension for Sergio Ramos had seen Real coach Wanderley Luxemburgo draft in Woodgate for his debut.

Given Real's disastrous start to the season - losing two consecutive league games as well being humbled by Lyon in the Champions League - Woodgate's task was to solve the Madrid club's defensive problems.

He will now have to serve a suspension, further interrupting his attempts to establish himself in the Real side
Before Thursday Real had conceded six headed goals in La Liga - a statistic up to seven after Woodgate's untimely intervention.

Woodgate played on the right side of the Real central defence alongside Pavon and full-backs Michel Salgado and Roberto Carlos.

With Salgado and Carlos always keen to move forward and Pavon's defensive shortcomings frequently exposed, Woodgate had his work cut out to prevent Bilbao adding to their lead as Real stuttered in attack.

After the own goal Woodgate looked markedly less assured, notably when he rashly challenged Bilbao midfielder Carlos Gurpegi, a tackle that earned him a yellow card just before the interval.

After the break Woodgate found some respite as Real's attacking talents came to life with Brazilian Robinho flicking in a David Beckham free-kick and Raul side-footing home.

With Real 2-1 up, Woodgate's debut was starting to look up, but the English defender had not bargained for his nemesis Etxeberria tempting him into a rash challenge midway through the second half.

It was a challenge that earned him second yellow card and a sending off, completing the most miserable of debuts for the 25-year-old defender.

As Woodgate trudged off all the former Leeds and Newcastle defender could do was shake his head in disbelief.

A second goal from Raul ensured Real went on to win the game, three points that moved them up to fifth place in the Spanish table.

Woodgate will be relieved to emerge physically unscathed from Thursday's game.

The frustration for him will be that he will now have to serve a suspension, further interrupting his attempts to establish himself in the Real side.


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