By Richard Martin
BARCELONA, Sept 23 (Reuters) - Barcelona’s 100 percent winning start to the season came to a halt on Sunday when they were held to a 2-2 La Liga draw by Girona on Sunday, having been reduced to playing the final 55 minutes with 10 men.
The result meant they lost their two-point advantage over Real Madrid at the top of the table, with both teams on 13 points after five games.
Lionel Messi gave the champions the lead in the 19th minute with a first-time shot after a lay off from Chile international Arturo Vidal and came close to doubling the lead after dancing through a maze of defenders but saw his shot saved.
Barca’s strong start was derailed when defender Clement Lenglet was sent off 35 minutes into his first league start for the club after elbowing Pere Pons, and Girona took advantage right before the interval when Cristhian Stuani levelled.
Uruguayan striker Stuani struck again in the 51st to give Girona, only playing their second season in Spain’s top flight, an unlikely lead.
The Catalans continued to dominate proceedings despite their numerical disadvantage, and they almost equalised when Messi sent a free kick crashing against the crossbar.
Gerard Pique headed in the leveller in the 63rd minute by climbing above two defenders to meet a scrappy, deflected cross from Luis Suarez after coach Ernesto Valverde had thrown on Ivan Rakitic and Philippe Coutinho for the underperforming Vidal and Arthur.
Girona coped admirably with Barca’s onslaught for the remainder of the game, keeping their heads under the pressure and forcing the champions to resort to long range shots which failed to trouble impressive visiting goalkeeper Bono. (Reporting by Richard Martin, editing by Pritha Sarkar)