THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
MADRID, Spain — Malaga came from behind to win 2-1 at Espanyol Sunday to rise to fourth place in the Spanish league, keeping the club in the hunt for European football next season.
Malaga’s Ruud van Nistelrooy and Martin Demichelis scored within three second-half minutes as the Qatari-owned club hit back from Philippe Coutinho’s 24th-minute goal to secure a fifth victory in six games.
Malaga is level with third-place Valencia on points, moving ahead of Levante after it lost 2-0 to Osasuna. Raul Garcia and Juan Francsico Martinez scored either side of the break to lift Osasuna to sixth, the last Europa League place, and three points in front of Espanyol.
"More than results, we’re looking to establish a style of play," Malaga coach Manuel Pellegrini said. "If the team’s displays continue on like this then I am certain we can finish the season high in the standings because we’ve never lacked ambition."
Meanwhile, Athletic Bilbao lost ground with the top teams after drawing 1-1 at home with Sporting Gijon, its fourth straight winless game since humbling Manchester United.
Athletic dominated Sporting Gijon and Oscar de Marcos looked to have put the Basques on course to victory at San Mames stadium with a 77th-minute goal. But Alberto Lora scored in the 90th minute for Sporting to salvage a 1-1 draw.
Bilbao knocked out United in the Europa League but its form has since been lacking due to fatigue and injuries. The team again failed to put away a game it dominated, especially in the first half as Iker Muniain had a penalty saved by Juan Pablo Colinas and Fernando Llorente missed a clear chance.
"We should have won by two or three goals," said Athletic coach Marcelo Bielsa, whose team plays Hannover on Thursday. "There are still a lot of reasons to remain optimistic."
The race to avoid relegation saw all three bottom clubs pick up points, but Villarreal’s 2-0 victory at Rayo Vallecano left them all six points from safety.
Villarreal coach Miguel Angel Lotina picked up a victory in his second game in charge as Marco Ruben and Angel Lopez scored either side of the break to give the "Yellow Submarine" a big boost as it looks to end a miserable season by at least staying up. Granada, which plays Sevilla in an Andalucian derby on Monday, is tied with Villarreal.
Zaragoza converted a last-minute penalty to beat Atletico Madrid 1-0 and provisionally move off the bottom of the table, although Racing Santander’s 1-1 draw at Real Betis coupled with Sporting’s result put it right back at the bottom again on goal difference.
Atletico, which is a point behind Espanyol and one ahead of Athletic, conceded a dubious penalty when Diego Godin was booked for making contact with Helder Postiga.
Antonio "Apono" Galdeano scored the spot kick in the last play of the game as Zaragoza moved above Sporting Gijon and Racing Santander to within three points of safety.
"We were in last place so our obligation was to win," Zaragoza coach Manolo Jimenez said. "It was clear in this game that the team who scored would win."
Coutinho continued his excellent loan spell at Espanyol with a masterfully taken free kick, the Brazilian forward rolling his shot under the wall as the defenders jumped off the ground for his fifth goal since arriving from Inter Milan in January.
Enzo Maresca struck the post on separate occasions before Van Nistelrooy slotted home a loose ball to equalize in the 76th.
Dimechelis was perfectly placed moments later to fire the rebound from Jose Rondon’s saved header into the roof of goal.
At Valencia, Garcia volleyed home Osasuna’s opener in the 16th minute, before Martinez jumped on a Levante defensive lapse in the 79th to score from inside the area.
Osasuna is unbeaten in six games and remains in a strong position to finish in a European place with nine rounds remaining.
Spanish leader Real Madrid bounced back from consecutive draws to beat Real Sociedad 5-1 on Saturday to stay six points ahead of Barcelona, which beat Mallorca 2-0. Also on Saturday, Getafe beat Valencia 3-1.