RIO DE JANEIRO, Sept 24 (Reuters) - Brazilian championship leaders Sao Paulo lost 3-1 to coachless arch-rivals Palmeiras on Sunday and second-placed Gremio fared even worse, losing 4-0 at modest Goias.
Third-placed Santos took full advantage of the slip-ups, hammering Flamengo 3-0 to close the gap on the leading pair.
Palmeiras, under interim coach Marcelo Vilar, scored twice in the last 10 minutes after Sao Paulo defender Alex Silva was sent off for the third time in 13 games for the club.
Silva was dismissed in the second half with the score at 1-1 for an ugly foul on Marcinho.
Shortly afterwards, Marcinho won a hotly-disputed penalty and, after two minutes of Sao Paulo protests, Paulo Baier fired home from the spot.
Marcinho completed the scoring when he finished off a counter-attack in stoppage-time shortly after Sao Paulo goalkeeper Rogerio Ceni had come close to equalising with one of his trademark free kicks.
Sao Paulo had taken an early lead when Souza headed home Mineiro's cross but Nen equalised with another headed goal before the break.
Sao Paulo lead with 49 points from 25 games, four ahead of Gremio who have played one match more.
Souza, namesake of the Sao Paulo player, and Jadilson scored twice in a four-minute spell in the first half to put Goias in command against Gremio.
The hosts repeated the trick after the break as Johnson and Souza scored within four minutes. Santos, under former Real Madrid and Brazil coach Vanderlei Luxemburgo, cruised to a 3-0 win over Flamengo with three second-half goals.
Wellington Paulista opened the scoring after a one-two with Jonas and former Bayern Munich and Brazil midfielder Ze Roberto added the second with an almost replica effort.
Rodrigo Tabata tapped home a rebound in stoppage-time to leave Flamengo without a win at the Vila Belmiro since 1976, when Luxemburgo scored the winning goal.
South American champions Internacional salvaged a 1-1 draw at home to Corinthians thanks to a blunder from visiting goalkeeper Marcelo.
Carlos Alberto put Corinthians ahead in the 30th minute but one minute later Marcelo dropped the ball after appearing to have comfortably held Caio's cross and Fernandao pounced to equalise.
Internacional are fourth with 41 points while defending champions Corinthians have 32 and are 16th, only one place outside the relegation zone.
A floodlight failure interrupted Ponte Preta's match at home to Cruzeiro for 15 minutes before former Bayern Munich striker Elber scored the only goal.
Fluminense, who have already employed five coaches this year, faced howls of protest from their fans after losing 3-1 at home to relegation-threatened Fortaleza.
Fluminense supporters chanted 'Ole' as the visitors passed the ball around during the second half.