Atletico Madrid lose ground in La Liga title race after falling to Villarreal
Atletico Madrid lost further ground on title rivals Real Madrid and Barcelona as Luciano Vietto's solitary late goal took all three points for Villarreal and inflicted a first home league defeat on Diego Simeone's side since March 2013.
Los Rojiblancos were left cursing their luck as Mario Mandzukic had a goal harshly ruled out at the start of the second half.
But Villarreal were more than a match for the league champions and were worthy of the 1-0 win, which ended Atletico's run of 27 league games without defeat at the Vicente Calderon.
The defeat will be all the more galling for Simeone, who handed a 17-year-old Vietto his debut in professional football back in 2011 while in charge of Argentine side Racing Club. His side remain third in the Primera Divison table, slipping seven points behind Real and three behind Barca.
Both sides went into the game in impressive form at home and in Europe - Atletico had won their last three league games and in midweek held Juventus to a draw to top their Champions League group, while Villarreal had thrashed Real Sociedad 4-0 in their last league game and saw off Apollon Limassol to qualify for the last 32 of the Europa League.
The first half was a scrappy affair, with Atletico marginally the better team but still limited to taking shots from range, such as Guilherme Siqueira's early effort that flew over the bar, and an attempt from Koke which went just wide of the far post.
Former Atletico goalkeeper Sergio Asenjo had to tip a shot from Tiago round his near post, and then his opposite number Miguel Angel Moya caught a softly struck shot from Denis Cheryshev following a quick Villarreal break.
Cheryshev tried his luck again at the start of the second period but shot over the bar, while Asenjo then had to make two saves in quick succession to prevent Mandzukic and Koke from scoring from close range.
Then came the moment of controversy which changed the game. Arda Turan weaved his way past Villarreal defenders on the right wing and crossed for Mandzukic to nod home from a couple of yards out. However, the Croatian was horrified to see the goal ruled out for the softest of touches on Villarreal defender Mario Gaspar as he leapt to meet the cross.
The hosts were not the same from then on, and Villarreal came closer to scoring with each counter-attack. Cheryshev was denied at the near post by Moya and then the goalkeeper clawed the ball away from the feet of Vietto as the Argentinian mis-controlled a pass from his Russian team-mate.
But the brilliant youngster would not be denied his moment of glory. In the 84th minute the 21-year-old took a through-ball from substitute Moi Gomez into the area, turned Diego Godin and then struck past Moya to silence the Calderon and take his side back up to sixth place in the table.