Villarreal keep up pressure

Injury-hit Villarreal underlined their Spanish league title credentials with a 2-1 victory over rock-bottom Recreativo Huelva on Sunday to cut the gap on leaders Barcelona to four points. Despite missing seven players, including influential midfielder Marcos Senna, Villarreal had enough to overcome a Recreativo side who have won just once all season.

Villarreal were fortunate to go ahead when Santi Cazorla's shot from outside the area went in off a defender after 26 minutes. Ariel Ibagaza doubled the lead with a well-struck free-kick before Recreativo pulled a goal back through a penalty from Adrian Colunga after Pascal Cygan brought down Marco Ruben.

Villarreal coach Manuel Pellegrini felt the result did not show the true domination of his side. "We had a good game and in my opinion deserved more goals," he said. "After our second goal we were clearly superior although we did not take our chances. We won in spite of missing lot of players, that is the important thing."

Deportivo la Coruna moved into a UEFA Cup place after beating Almeria with Joan Verdu scoring the only goal of the game. Almeria were on the back foot after the sending off of Alvaro Negredo for elbowing Albert Lopo and they were lucky to survive a penalty that Verdu hit against the post but he made amends with 15 minutes left.

Valladolid continued their good form which has seen them beat Real Madrid and Villarreal in the last fortnight with a convincing 3-0 win over Mallorca. Garcia Calvo gave them the lead after 28 minutes and Vivar Dorado and Henok Goitom added to the tally. At the other end of the table, Athletic Bilbao moved out of the relegation zone with a 2-0 win over fellow strugglers Numancia with a Fernando Llorente brace.

The gloss was taken off Bilbao's win with a late sending-off for defender Xabier Etxeitia for his second bookable offence. Espanyol lost, 1-0, at home to Sporting Gijon as Espanyol coach Bartolomeo Marquez's job is hanging in the balance with the team on the edge of the relegation zone. They fell to a fine first-half strike by Carmelo Gonzalez.

A flurry of late goals saw Malaga beat Osasuna, 4-2. Antonio Apono and Nabil Baha gave Malaga the lead after the break before Osasuna equalised through Javad Nekounam and Miguel Flano. But Malaga battled forward once again and won the game with strikes from Albert Luque and Eliseu Pereira.

A Ruben Baraja header gave ten-man Valencia a 3-2 victory in a pulsating encounter with Real Betis at the Mestalla to keep them in the championship hunt. Valencia had lost their last two home games but went into a commanding lead after first-half goals from David Villa and Juan Mata. Brazilian midfielder Edu was the key, helping to set up both goals as Betis struggled to muster an attack of their own. But after he exited before half-time holding his thigh Betis seized the initiative and reduced the deficit with Juanma Gonzalez scoring after 56 minutes with the Valencia keeper Renan Brito beaten at his near post.

Betis then levelled just after the hour mark when Sergio Garcia was brought down in the area by Carlos Marchena, who was dismissed. Achille Emana converted the spot-kick. Betis pushed forward looking for the victory but against the run of play Baraja headed a free-kick powerfully past the stranded Betis goalkeeper.

In the late game, Atletico Madrid welcomed back fans to the Calderon after playing behind closed doors for their UEFA Champions League game in mid-week due to a UEFA punishment. They play a Racing Santander side who are also in the battle for a place in Europe next season.