Joseph Sexton

The songs carried on into the cold night in Vallecas, led by the boisterous Bukaneros behind the goal. The goal that actually has a stand behind it that is, for Rayo’s quaint little ground in the working-class neighbourhood only has three sides to it.
“I'm delighted, annoyed, content and royally f**ked off,” their breathless coach Paco Jémez (protesting, right) told Radio Onda Cero after the final whistle. Rayo had just beaten Atlético Madrid 2-0, and beaten them emphatically. Their first home win over their city rivals since 1994 lifted them to within two points of fourth place, but Jémez was still smarting having been sent off for protesting a decision.
That's all part of an ongoing vendetta as the league has rendered all forms of sideline dissent a red card offence. What a pity  Jémez will be absent from the bench when they travel to the Bernabéu next week hoping to claim a rare derby double, but he remained bullish. “We'll travel their without fear, with no complex.”
The idea of them claiming a further scalp against a Real side who’ve given up on the league isn’t as preposterous as it seems.
What is preposterous is that they’ve found themselves in such a lofty position. Last summer they didn't just lose Michu, they lost the bones of their first-team squad. All in all, some 15 players departed along with the man who led them to- and kept them in- this division, José Ramón Sandoval, having been sued for the return of his promotion bonus from the previous campaign by the cash-stricken club's latest administrators.
Rayo are a special club, a real one-off. Kasey Keller, the former Tottenham and USA keeper spoke of his bewilderment on walking out for his first home game there to scores of Cuban and Soviet flags. Like the barrio from which they hail, Rayo are unrepentingly left-wing, and proud of it too. An area with the greatest ethnic mix of any in the capital, they wear their anti-racist and anti-fascist credentials on their sleeves.
There’s something about the match-day experience too. Even on nights like this where 5,000 seats remained unfilled for a derby because of ludicrous ticket-pricing. When this writer ventured there last April for their 7-0 drubbing against Barcelona, prior warnings to not expect wifi in the press box only told half the story.
First of all, there's no real press area so to speak. The level of organisation would be an embarrassment at a League of Ireland ground. Waiting the entire first half for the security to locate our press credentials, we searched the palco - the executive area - for free seats before settling for a place on the steps. Even at 5-0 down, the 11,000 strong crowd sung as if they numbered double that.
In a league where most clubs' finances are perilous, Rayo stand out as being flat broke. Utterly. Their current squad was put together for precisely zero in transfer fees and most players' contracts only run until the end of the season. Last year, the team bus was ordered to take secondary roads to away games to avoid motorway tolls they simply couldn't afford. Suddenly a three-hour journey north became five. Little wonder that their home and away form displayed a real Jekyll and Hyde character.
They briefly flirted with the European places before a late collapse saw them preserve their top flight status on the final day. This year, relegation is off the cards already. And despite the loss of Sandoval, who seemed to drag the club through by his sheer force of will, they've grown even better under a man who’d never coached a game in the top flight before.
Jémez likes his teams to play from the back, attack like mad, and press like demons. He’s a man who refuses to compromise on his basic principles. Witnessing Celtic’s defeat of Barcelona, he said with real contempt “My face would fall off with shame if we played like that against them”. Nor did they. They came away from the Camp Nou with a 5-0 hiding but only after making Barcelona sweat for the opening half hour.
The balance in the team wasn’t quite right in the opening half of the season, as the defence leaked goals. It wasn't just that defeat, for they lost 6-1 at promoted Rayo Valladolid and shipped four without reply away to a struggling Real Sociedad in November.
Recently, they’ve began to find that balance. Before last week’s defeat at Sevilla, they’d conceded just nine goals in eleven; the eleven games prior to that saw them let in 30. They’d won five of their previous seven going into last night's game. But their opponents were those masters of economy and defensive organisation, Atlético.
Something had to give, and in a whirlwind opening half Rayo simply blew Diego Simeone’s side away. The angles and ferocity of the home attack left the visitors a quivering mess and Leo Bapistao’s second, following Bangoura's third minute opener, barely did justice to the chasing dished out in that period.
Baptistao himself had been rumoured to have signed a pre-contract with their opponents for next season, though such reports have proved unfounded. Suddenly, with the fillip of European football they might even be able to hold on to the Brazilian starlet. The home crowd were in dreamland long before the final whistle, singing of meeting Liverpool next season. Here's the thing though- with Rayo far better poised to snatch a place in the Champions League than the Reds, the Bukaneros may just have to wait a little longer for that dream date.
*Follow Joseph Sexton on  Twitter: @josephsbcn