An injury-time strike from substitute Nilmar Honorato earned Villarreal a 2-2 draw against Racing Santander and the UEFA Champions League chasing side avoided suffering their third defeat in four games today.
Having clung onto the shoulders of the top two for most of the season, February has proved to be a tough month for Villarreal with the added effort of playing in the UEFA Europa League having taken its effect. Having knocked out Napoli in mid-week, Villarreal started against Racing without several key players including Bruno Soriano, Nilmar and Santi Cazorla.
Ariel Gerardo put Racing ahead after just three minutes and while Villarreal pushed forward, they lacked a cutting edge. The home side had the better chances before Marco Ruben equalised mid-way through the second half. Just two minutes later though substitute Giovani Dos Santos appeared to have given Racing all three points until Nilmar pounced in the dying moments.
Valencia have taken advantage of Villarreal's slump to move into third place but now face a tough match away to Athletic Bilbao who have a strong home record.
"If we can beat Athletic then it would be a massive step towards winning a place in the Champions League," said Valencia striker Roberto Soldado. "They are a difficult side in front of their fans who push them forward but we know what to expect and we will have to be very concentrated."
"In attack they have a lot of dangerous players and above all in the air where they will try and find (Fernando) Llorente," said Soldado. "We will need to keep hold of the ball and impose ourselves on the game."
Levante came out 2-1 winners in their relegation battle with Osasuna and have opened up a three-point cushion over the bottom three. Osasuna have failed to win away in over a year but they did go ahead on their first real opening with Walter Pandiani heading home a Masoud Soleimani cross.
They were in front for just three minutes, though, as Sergio Ballesteros slotted in a loose ball in the area and then after the restart a poor back pass was picked up by Felipe Caicedo and he made most of it in front of goal.
Hercules wasted a hatful of chances as they could only draw 0-0 with Getafe. It was not to be Hercules day as David Trezeguet and Javier Portillo missed good chances while Cristian Hidalgo hit the crossbar.
On Saturday, Barcelona moved seven points clear at the top after Real Madrid drew 0-0 against a well-organised Deportivo La Coruna side. Despite a weakened line-up through injuries and suspension, Barcelona put the pressure on Real with a 3-0 win over Mallorca with goals from Lionel Messi, David Villa and Pedro Rodriguez. Without Xavi Hernandez, Carles Puyol, Victor Valdes and Dani Alves, Barça were expected to struggle but after the first goal went in they found their rhythm.
Instead it was Real who found no way through a determined Deportivo back line. Their best openings came in a grandstand finish when first substitute Emmanuel Adebayor and then Cristiano Ronaldo hit the post but they were unable to find the all important goal.