Barcelona see record run ended by strugglers Gijon

MADRID, Feb 13, 2011 (AFP) - League leaders Barcelona saw their record winning run come to an end with a shock 1-1 draw at Sporting Gijon and it could have been worse had David Villa not scored a brilliant 79th-minute equaliser to salvage a point.

Barcelona's forward David Villa (C) celebrates with his team-mates after scoring against Sporting Gijon on February 12, 2011. AFP

Barcelona had won 16 consecutive league games to beat the old mark of the great Real Madrid side of 1960/61. But the champions saw their historical sequence broken and the two dropped points are a real boost for title rivals Real.

Barcelona are now eight points ahead of Real in the Spanish first division and Jose Mourinho's side will want to capitalise on the rare slip by winning at Espanyol on Sunday.

Unfashionable Sporting, two points above the relegation zone, took the lead through David Barral after 16th minutes and Barcelona needed a delightful chip from Villa late on to snatch a point.

"We managed to get a draw and we have to be happy with a point," said Villa. "Barcelona never settle for a draw because we always like to win, but it is true that Sporting were superior to us in certain aspects."

It was the first away points dropped all season for Barcelona, who had won all 10 of their away games prior to this game, and coach Pep Guardiola will hope for a better display on Wednesday when his side travel to Arsenal for the first leg of their last 16 Champions League tie.

A fired-up Sporting started the better of the two sides and took a surprise 16th-minute lead as Barral cut inside from the left flank and left Gerard Pique in his wake before firing low into the corner.

Barcelona don't often go behind and found it difficult to respond against hosts who defended deep in numbers.

The champions didn't have a noteworthy effort on goal until just after the half hour mark when Andres Iniesta shot across goal but goalkeeper Ivan Cuellar saved well.

On 53 minutes right back Dani Alves nipped past his man and cut the ball back for Xavi but the midfielder scuffed his shot and Cuellar smothered the effort.

Two minutes later Lionel Messi was foiled by Cuellar at his near post and Alves almost scored a minute later.

Sporting could barely get out of their half but Barcelona did not make the breakthrough until the 79th minute with Villa floating a delightful chip over Cuellar.

Villa did not celebrate the goal out of respect for hometown club Gijon where he began his career before going on to become a world superstar.

Elsewhere the future of Atletico Madrid coach Quique Sanchez Flores is hanging by a thread after a Joaquin brace helped Valencia to a 2-1 comeback win at the Vicente Calderon on Saturday.

Joaquin scored an 86th minute winner to punish Atletico, who have won just once in 2011 under Flores, and Valencia move two points above Villarreal into third place.

Atletico are seven points off the top six, with the the pre-season target of Champions League football out of sight, and Flores could face the axe with his old team Valencia, where he played for 10 years and who he managed for two seasons, possibly putting the final nail in his coffin.

"The fans cheer me up because they appreciate things and that's why I will do everything I possibly can to turn things around," said Flores.

Atletico got the perfect start with Jose Antonio Reyes putting them ahead after just three minutes, however, Joaquin levelled for Valencia on 41 minutes.

Diego Forlan missed a crucial penalty on 56 minutes and Joaquin scored a fine winner curling in a right-footed shot from just outside the area with four minutes left.

It propelled Valencia into third and was the perfect preparation for their Champions League last 16 first leg match at home to Schalke on Tuesday.

In other matches, 10-man Racing Santander defeated Sevilla 3-2 in an enthralling match on Saturday to give new coach Marcelino a winning start.

Substitute Manuel Arana scored a stoppage time winner to lift Racing four points above the relegation zone while Sevilla stay six points off the top six.

Racing went two goals up inside the first 19 minutes, however, goalscorer Christian Salas was sent off on 39 minutes for violent conduct and Sevilla levelled at 2-2 before Arana's sensational winner.

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