BARCELONA (Reuters) - Valencia coach Marcelino was sent off from the dugout for dissent before watching his side earn a barely deserved 2-0 win at Espanyol to stay in touch with Barcelona ahead of next week’s showdown against the Liga leaders.
A rocket from Geoffrey Kondogbia put Valencia on their way to victory midway through the second half soon after Marcelino received his marching orders and Santi Mina sealed the victory late in the game.
Marcelino, who had opted to rest top scorer Simone Zaza and in-form winger Goncalo Guedes, saw his side survive a flurry of attempts from the hosts in both halves.
Gerard Moreno struck the post while Sergio Garcia and former Valencia man Pablo Piatti narrowly missed the target.
After Marcelino’s sending off, which means he will be absent from the dugout for the visit of Barca, French midfielder Kondogbia broke the deadlock against the run of play with a deadly shot from the edge of the area in the 66th minute, his third goal of the season.
Mina then pounced on a defensive clanger from Espanyol’s Victor Sanchez in the 82nd minute to seal a club record eighth league win in a row for Valencia, who have emerged as unlikely candidates to jostle Barcelona for the Liga title.
“We had to work very hard for this win, we were second best in the first half but we managed to cope, stay compact and compete,” Mina told reporters.
”In the second half we had more of the ball, we were more comfortable and we take away three points from this very difficult ground.
“Valencia have always been a great team and today we showed we can compete against anyone. Big teams also win this way, the important thing is that we won again because next week we have a battle that will be just as tough and we need to be prepared.”
Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid fell 10 points behind the Catalans following Saturday’s goalless local derby.
Barca lead the standings on 34 points from 12 games, Valencia are second in 30, while Real are third and Atletico fourth, both on 24. Valencia host Barca next Sunday at Mestalla.
Elsewhere, Athletic Bilbao’s veteran striker Aritz Aduriz scored a late equaliser in a 1-1 draw with Villarreal to save the Basque side from a fourth straight defeat while Las Palmas suffered an eighth consecutive loss, 2-0 at home to Levante.
Las Palmas prop up the table on six points with their embattled coach Pako Ayestaran now having now lost a league record 13 consecutive games across three seasons with two clubs.
Malaga earned a second straight home win by beating Deportivo La Coruna 3-2 to ease pressure on coach Michel although his side are still in the relegation zone, 18th on seven points.
They are a place ahead of Alaves, who are alongside Las Palmas on six.
Reporting by Richard Martin; Editing by Ian Chadband