La Liga

Villarreal, Bilbao keep pace in La Liga

Athletic Bilbao
Athletic Bilbao players celebrate their victory against Real Betis at San Mames.
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BARCELONA, Spain (AP)

Villarreal used a quick goal and Ruben ''Cani'' Gracia's playmaking to earn a hard-fought 2-1 win at home over Espanyol on Thursday, keeping the promoted side undefeated through six rounds in the Spanish league.

Striker Jeremy Perbet needed 30 seconds to put Villarreal ahead at El Madrigal Stadium by volleying in a cross by Hernan Perez that Cani had headed down to him in the area.

Despite the early blow, Espanyol hung in the match thanks to Kiko Casilla's goalkeeping to stop two shots by Giovani Dos Santos before halftime. Javier Aguirre's team then pressed Villarreal into its area at the start of the second half.

But Cani set up substitute Jonathan Pereira to tap in the hosts' second goal off the break in the 67th after streaking down the left flank.

Espanyol, however, wasn't done and forward Sergio Garcia pulled one back in the 80th when he spun away from his marker and drilled a shot past goalkeeper Sergio Asenjo to leave the result in doubt until the final whistle.

Villarreal stayed in fourth place and two points behind third-place Real Madrid. Leader Barcelona and Atletico Madrid are a further two points ahead of Madrid.

''We hope we can keep this up and stay in the Champions League spots,'' Cani said. ''We are not going to settle for less. Although we do remember that we have just come up from the second division.''

It was Espanyol's first loss of the season.

Also, Athletic Bilbao fought back for an entertaining 2-1 win over Real Betis, while Getafe beat visiting Celta Vigo 2-0.

Bilbao dominated the match at the new San Mames Stadium, which has sections of seating still under construction, with forward Ibai Gomez peppering Betis' area with crosses from the left wing and hitting the crossbar twice before halftime.

But Betis goalkeeper Guillermo Sara saved a penalty kick taken by Benat Etxebarria in the 58th when Markel Susaeta wrong-footed Xavi Torres and was tripped by the midfielder in the box.

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In a rare excursion into Bilbao's area, Betis forward Jorge Molina poked his own rebound from a header saved by Gorka Iraizoz under the `keeper from a right angle to snatch the lead in the 62nd.

Bilbao kept pushing forward and the 73rd-minute equalizer came through Oscar de Marcos, who went on in the 70th and soon raced in to head Benat's cross between Sara's legs.

Defender Mikel San Jose was then left unmarked to head in Gomez's cross- the first one he sent in from the right side- to take Bilbao's winner in the 82nd.

Molina almost grabbed a draw for Betis, which was left with just one victory this season, with a shot off the post four minutes from time.

''To be fair, Athletic should have gone into halftime ahead,'' said Betis coach Pepe Mel. ''From there on, with the saved penalty, the sensation that I take away is that we did enough to take a point.''

Getafe center back Lisandro Lopez scored one goal and set up a second to give the Madrid-based team its second victory of the season.

Lopez headed in a cross by Pedro Leon one minute before halftime, and the Argentine flicked on Leon's corner kick for Alvaro Arroyo to double the advantage five minutes after the break.

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