Villarreal lost ground in the race for fourth spot as they threw away a two-goal lead to draw 2-2 at struggling Elche.
Marcelino’s side looked to be heading for a sixth straight Primera Division victory when Luciano Vietto and Ikechukwu Uche scored inside the opening 20 minutes. However the hosts got back into the game through top scorer Jonathas de Jesus, who then provided the assist for Victor Rodriguez’s impressive equalizer after 35 minutes.
Villarreal squandered the chance to go level on points with Sevilla in fourth place while Elche remain bottom of the table despite picking up their first point in five matches. Denis Cheryshev was denied an early goal for the visitors as Damian Suarez flew in to block a close range shot from the Russian forward, who had been teed up by Vietto.
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Elche were not passive early on, however – Mario Palasic headed a free-kick towards goal and forced Sergio Asenjo to tip over the bar, and then Garry Rodrigues shuffled his way into the Villarreal area but shot into the side-netting. But it was the visitors who struck first in the 11th minute, Vietto turning the ball into an empty net after a spectacular team move that saw Marcelino’s side move the ball from their own area into the opposing net with eight slick passes.
A second goal arrived just four minutes later from a similarly sweeping move. This time Mario Gaspar went for goal after a series of passes and saw his shot saved by Przemyslaw Tyton, but Uche gobbled up the rebound and shot high into the net. Few observers would have envisaged an Elche comeback at that stage, but the hosts crept back into the game after 26 minutes by robbing Villarreal on the halfway line and counter-attacking at a terrifying pace, with Jonathas slamming Rodrigues’ cross into the roof of the net from eight yards.
Villarreal came straight back at their opponents hoping to restore their two-goal cushion and created two clear chances inside a minute. Vietto ventured down the right and squared to Uche, but an Elche defender blocked the Nigerian’s shot at the same post. Vietto then raced through on goal and put the ball past Tyton but David Lomban came to his goalkeeper’s rescue to clear the ball off the line.
Villarreal were left to rue their wastefulness 60 seconds later. Jonathas dispossessed Gabriel Paulista near the Villarreal penalty area then held the ball up to allow Victor Rodriguez to join him on the edge of the area, and the midfielder rifled the ball into the top corner.
There was still time before the break for Villarreal to hound the Elche goal again, but neither Cheryshev nor Manu Trigueros could place their shots on the right side of the side-netting. Neither side could sustain the frenetic pace of the game after the break and although Villarreal looked the more likely to get a winner, Fran Escriba’s side held on.