Raul Garcia leads Atletico Madrid to rare away win at Valencia
A solitary goal by Raul Garcia was enough to see off Valencia and nudge Atletico Madrid closer still to the Primera Division title.
The midfielder headed in the crucial goal just moments before half-time and then Atletico dug deep to hold off intermittent swathes of pressure from Valencia to earn their first win at Mestalla in 11 years.
They had to play the last minutes of injury time with 10 men after Juanfran was sent off for a reckless tackle, but it could not prevent them winning the game.
This was widely believed to be Atletico’s toughest test remaining and the fact they came through it will only strengthen their confidence of holding off the challenge from Real Madrid, who they lead by three points.
Diego Simeone’s side now need just two wins from their next three games to lift their first league title in 18 years.
Valencia came out of the blocks quicker than their opponents and could have taken the lead in under two minutes, Paco Alcacer flashing a shot just wide of the post from the edge of the area.
Atletico soon soaked up the pressure and had their first attempt. David Villa swivelled on the corner of the area and tried to hit the top corner of the net, but his shot went wide.
Koke attempted an overhead kick after good work on the wing by Diego Costa, but the midfielder mishit his effort and it landed on the roof of the net.
At the other end Pablo Piatti found a way through the Atleti defence but could not get enough power on his shot to trouble Thibaut Courtois.
The opening goal arrived just before half-time. Captain Gabi chipped the ball into the area and Garcia rose higher than Vicente Guaita to flick a header in off the post.
Tensions had been flaring up in the first half, with Diego Costa clashing with namesake Ricardo Costa, and Valencia’s frustration grew in the second period as they were denied a penalty when Jonas’s shot hit Gabi on the arm.
The hosts failed to take advantage of several opportunities to level, with Sofiane Feghouli’s header seemingly goalbound until Filipe Luis got in the way and the Algerian then firing just wide of the far post from their best chance of the game.
Before that, Atletico could have put the game to bed. Costa bulldozed his way through the Valencia defence a few minutes after the restart but could not take the ball round Guaita, and then Diego Godin headed into the keeper’s hands from a corner.
Atletico were holding on in the final minutes but should have calmed their nerves with five minutes remaining. Again Costa raced through the middle to bear down on Guaita, but the goalkeeper nudged the ball out of the striker’s path.
Juanfran’s lunge on Piatti brought a late Valencia attack to an end, but not even the red card and an inevitable suspension for the full-back could wipe the smile from Atletico’s faces, with the league title more in their reach than ever.