Villarreal victory, keep pace with Barca

Villarreal made up for their shock midweek thrashing in the Copa del Rey in emphatic style against Primera Liga stragglers Athletic Bilbao on Saturday.

Giuseppe Rossi opened the scoring in the 24th minute but Joseba Etxeberria leveled matters for Bilbao just five minutes later as the hosts enjoyed their best 45 minutes of the season.

However, it was a different story in the second half as Bilbao capitulated and two goals in six minutes from Robert Pires and Santi Cazorla saw Villarreal out of sight with less than an hour gone.

Substitute Josmer Altidore added another right at the death, seconds after coming off the bench.

Bilbao were keen to record a victory as they came to the end of a testing run of fixtures which saw them pitted against four of the top five sides - Sevilla, Barcelona, Real Madrid and Villarreal.

They had lost all three of them before this game and were second from bottom in the Primera Liga.

Villarreal were equally eager to get back on track after losing the first leg of their cup tie 5-0 to third division Ejido in midweek, and almost got off to the perfect start but Angel Lopez blasted his effort wide in the opening minute.

Gonzalo Rodriguez went even closer in the seventh minute but he headed inches wide from six yards.

Bilbao were enjoying a good share of possession and had several opportunities to take the lead as first Fernando Llorente saw his header saved by Diego Lopez and then Mikel Balenziaga blazed over the bar from 30 yards.

Joseba Etxeberria also tried his luck from distance with a fierce effort from over 35 yards out which Lopez did well to save.

They were left to rue those missed opportunities as Villarreal took the lead in the 24th minute when Rossi latched onto Angel's cross and fired it into the bottom left corner from the edge of the box.

But their lead lasted just a few minutes before Etxeberria headed David Lopez's corner home from six yards.

Bilbao thought they had taken the lead two minutes later when Francisco Yeste fired a free-kick home from 25 yards but it was ruled out as the referee had awarded an indirect free-kick.

They twice went close in quick succession soon after as first David Lopez saw his 25-yard screamer tipped over by Diego Lopez and then Llorente headed the ensuing corner onto the post.

Bilbao deserved to go in at the break in front but it was a different story after the interval as they looked like a completely different side and it was Villarreal who took the lead in the 53rd minute.

Pires latched onto Rossi's cross and fired it low into the center of goal from six yards.

Bilbao fell further behind six minutes later thanks to a wonder solo effort by Cazorla. The Spain winger dribbled his way towards goal before unleashing an unstoppable shot from the edge of the area.

Cazorla should have got a second soon after but Gorka Iraizoz did well to tip his effort round the post.

Bilbao almost got one back in the 84th minute but Diego Lopez did brilliantly to parry Javi Martinez's close-range shot.

There was still more to come as in the final minute Altidore slotted home Cazorla's cross seconds after coming off the bench.

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