Real Madrid continued their perfect home record and moved three points clear at the summit tonight, but they were given a scare by Sporting Gijon en route to a 3-1 victory. Madrid produced little of note during a disappointing first half against a determined Sporting, and a shock looked on the cards when the mid-table visitors took a 53rd-minute lead through David Barral.

However, that goal served to spark Madrid into life and within four minutes they were 2-1 ahead thanks to strikes from Rafael van der Vaart and Xabi Alonso. Gonzalo Higuain then slotted home his 20th goal of the season in the 68th minute, as Madrid made it 14 league wins out of 14 at the Bernabeu this term.

It was also Madrid's ninth successive victory in the league and enabled the Whites to edge clear of second-placed Barcelona, who face a testing trip to Real Zaragoza tomorrow night.

Osvaldo at the double
Sevilla suffered their second UEFA Champions League setback in four days as Espanyol cruised to a comfortable 2-0 win. After CSKA Moscow dumped them out of Europe in midweek, Sevilla's hopes of finishing in the top four were dealt a blow by Dani Osvaldo's brace at Estadi Cornella-El Prat.

Osvaldo scored early in each half to earn Espanyol a thoroughly deserved victory and extend their opponents' winless run in the league to four games.

A Pedro Leon goal four minutes from time enabled Getafe to claim a 2-2 draw at Athletic Bilbao in a feisty encounter which ended with both sides reduced to ten men. Athletic took the lead in the 14th minute through Pablo Orbaiz with Manu levelling 18 minutes later.

The hosts were then reduced to ten men before the break when Orbaiz was sent off for violent conduct, but they overcame the disadvantage to go ahead with 11 minutes remaining when Fernando Llorente converted a penalty, the incident also resulting in a red card for Miguel Torres.

Boost for Xerez
Xerez gave their slim chances of survival a big boost with a 2-1 victory at home to fellow strugglers Tenerife. The Andalusians raced into a two-goal lead after a quarter of an hour, thanks to early strikes from Mario Bermejo and Aythami Artiles.

And the hosts held on for only a fourth league success of the season despite a reply from Nino - who also missed a first-half penalty - four minutes into the second half. Xerez should have put the game out of reach following an intense spell of pressure in the closing stages, but were made to sweat late on as defender Juan Luis Redondo was sent off.

Deportivo La Coruna's hopes of clinching a place in Europe next season received a big blow as the Galicians went down 2-0 at home to struggling Real Valladolid. The hosts were expected to win this match comfortably, but the visitors competed well and deservedly took all three points thanks to goals from Nauzet and Haris Medunjanin.