Villarreal slip up in Gijon

MADRID - Villarreal fluffed a chance to keep pace with leaders Real Madrid and second-placed Barcelona when they needed a late penalty to salvage a scrappy 1-1 draw at Sporting Gijon in La Liga on Sunday.

Real and Barca won on Saturday to move up to 23 and 22 points respectively with nine matches played and the wealthy pair are already beginning to look like leaving their much poorer rivals trailing, as in previous seasons.

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Villarreal stay third on 20 points, while Valencia, who were held 1-1 at home by bottom club Real Zaragoza on Saturday, are fourth on 17.

Atletico Madrid had Diego Forlan back for Almeria's visit to the Calderon but the Uruguay striker was unable to get on the scoresheet for the Europa League champions as they were held 1-1 with Pablo Piatti's goal cancelling out Sergio Aguero's opener.

Atletico, who play city neighbours Real at the Bernabeu next weekend, are sixth on 14, one behind Espanyol who lost 3-0 at Deportivo La Coruna earlier on Sunday in a generally poor weekend for the top teams, bar Real and Barca.

In-form Brazilian striker Nilmar almost put Villarreal ahead in the 13th minute at a rain-sodden Molinon, forcing a sharp save from Gijon goalkeeper Juan Pablo with a curled effort.

The home side went ahead in the 69th when the referee ruled Villarreal defender Gonzalo Rodriguez had handled in the area and awarded a penalty converted by Diego Castro.

Rodriguez was booked for the infringement and picked up a second yellow card and was dismissed after a needless block on David Barral in the 77th.

Villarreal pressed forward despite going down to 10 men and were awarded a penalty of their own in added time when midfielder Sebastian Eguren inexplicably hauled Carlos Marchena to the ground in the area.

Striker Giuseppe Rossi, who had missed a good chance for an equaliser a few minutes earlier, made no mistake from the spot.

In other matches on Sunday, Depor's win over Espanyol was their first of the campaign, Racing Santander thumped Osasuna 4-1 and Malaga lost 2-1 at home to promoted Real Sociedad.

Athletic Bilbao beat Getafe 3-0 in the late match.