Villarreal, Athletic in thrilling draw
Substitute Nilmar scored a vital equaliser 23 minutes from time as Villarreal came from behind to rescue a point against Athletic Bilbao. In a thrilling encounter that swung one way and then the other, it was the hosts who started the brighter and went ahead on ten minutes thanks to Marcos Senna's wonderful free-kick.
Marcelo Bielsa introduced Fernando Llorente at half-time and the Spain international brought Athletic level with a calm header at the back post before the visitors took the lead on the counter-attack as Markel Susaeta broke clear to slot past Diego Lopez.
Villarreal levelled immediately though as Gorka Iraizoz spilled Alejandro Martinuccio's shot and Nilmar nipped in to side-foot home just his third goal of the season. With Athletic having completed their UEFA Europa League tie with Lokomotiv Moscow just 63 hours before kick-off, Bielsa took the opportunity to rest Llorente from the start and the Basque side seemed weary as a whole during the opening period.
Senna curled in a spectacular free-kick early on and was denied from another set-piece by a fine save from Iraizoz. At the other end Lopez was also forced into action from a free-kick as David Lopez's effort was deflected and the Villarreal keeper did well to readjust and palm the ball to safety.
However, Llorente's arrival after the break made a huge difference to the visitors and indeed he should have equalised even earlier as he headed a glorious opportunity wide on 57 minutes. Four minutes later though Athletic were level as Gaizka Toquero stood up an inviting cross to the back post for Llorente to power home.
Bielsa's men were now in the ascendancy and went in front when Ander Herrera's defence-splitting pass sent Susaeta through on goal and his shot squirmed underneath Lopez at the near post. Within minutes though Iraizoz had also committed a simple error as he failed to hold Martinuccio's relatively tame effort and Nilmar showed great awareness to snap up the rebound.
Llorente had a great chance to win the game with three minutes to go, but Lopez redeemed himself with a fine one-on-one save to ensure Villarreal maintain their three- point gap above the relegation zone, whilst Athletic move to within a point of Levante in fourth.