MADRID: New Valencia coach Gary Neville watched on from the stands as Santi Mina’s late equalizer handed his side a shock 1-1 draw at home to European champions Barcelona.
Luis Suarez had put the visitors into a controversial lead as he appeared to be offside before slotting in at the near post, but Valencia’s work rate was rewarded when Mina fired into the top corner five minutes from time.
Real Madrid are now just four points behind Barca as they bounced back from their embarrassing elimination from the Copa del Rey for fielding an ineligible player in midweek with Karim Benzema, Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo all on target in their 4-1 thrashing of Getafe.
However, Real remain third, two points behind Atletico Madrid, after goals from Diego Godin and Antoine Griezmann handed Diego Simeone’s men a 2-0 win at Granada.
Neville doesn’t officially take charge until Sunday, leaving Valencia in the hands of caretaker boss Voro and his brother Phil Neville and the depleted hosts put up a brave fight against the superior quality of the European champions.
Barcelona should have had the game wrapped up by half-time, but the star front three of Lionel Messi, Neymar and Suarez were uncharacteristically wasteful in front of goal.
Messi spooned the first chance over from Neymar’s fine cross before the latter ballooned the ball into the stands with just Jaume Domenech to beat.
More brilliance on the left wing from Neymar teed up Messi once more, but on his weaker right foot he fired straight at Domenech.
Suarez then fluffed his lines when he tried to square for Neymar when clean through only to overhit his cross and see the ball fly to safety.
Moments later Suarez was denied a tap-in as Aderlan Santos got just enough of a deflection on Jordi Alba’s cross to take the ball away from Suarez.
Valencia claimed Suarez was lucky to stay on the field at the start of the second period, as he appeared to stamp on Aymen Abdennour’s foot after a heated exchange between the two.
And Valencia felt even harder done by when it was Suarez who finally opened the scoring as he squeezed the ball in at Domenech’s near post despite latching onto Messi’s pass from an offside position.
Yet, they made Barca pay for their profligacy when Paco Alcacer held up a long ball over the top and laid the ball perfectly into Mina’s path to slam home his first goal for the club.
At the Bernabeu, any sign of the fans’ frustration at the club’s latest gaffe in being eliminated from the Cup due to an administrative error was eased when Benzema fired home from Pepe’s fine cross after just five minutes.
That was the Frenchman’s first goal since being charged in a blackmail scandal involving international teammate Mathieu Valbuena.
And he looked back to his best as he doubled Madrid’s advantage on 16 minutes when he slotted into the bottom corner from Bale’s headed cut-back after Ronaldo appeared to have been fouled inside the area.
The one-way traffic continued as Bale showed great composure to finish from Ronaldo’s knockdown and score for a second consecutive league game for the first time since January.
Ronaldo finally got in on the act three minutes later at the end of a devastating counter-attack as he latched onto Toni Kroos’s fine through ball to register his 17th goal of the season.