MADRID, Sept 27 (Reuters) - Ruud van Nistelrooy grabbed an injury-time goal to give Real Madrid a 2-1 win at Real Betis in the Primera Liga on Saturday after two players were sent off.
The last-gasp victory kept the champions a point behind new leaders Villarreal who won 1-0 at promoted Sporting Gijon thanks to a second-half goal by Italian striker Giuseppe Rossi.
Villarreal have 13 points from five games but, with the bulk of the weekend matches being played on Sunday, Valencia could regain top spot if they win at home to Deportivo Coruna.
Real Madrid, who visit UEFA Cup holders Zenit St Petersburg in the Champions League on Tuesday, had a hard time collecting the points in Seville after a convincing first half performance.
Their Argentina defender Gabriel Heinze opened the scoring in the 19th minute with a close-range header that flew inside the far post after a free kick from the left by Rafael van der Vaart.
An unmarked de la Red then came close to scoring 10 minutes later when he forced a full-stretch save from Betis goalkeeper Castro Espinosa with a powerful shot from outside the area.
The home side almost equalised in first-half stoppage time through Cameroon midfielder Achile Emana whose shot was parried on to the post by Madrid keeper Iker Casillas after a neat pass from Mehmet Aurelio had set up the chance.
Betis did level the scores early in the second period when Madrid's Brazilian defender Marcelo conceded a penalty and was sent off after a reckless challenge from behind on Damia Abella.
Casillas got a hand to Sergio Garcia's spot kick but the Betis striker slammed the rebound into the net. Garcia was then sent off after being shown a second yellow card in the 82nd minute for a tackle on substitute midfielder Royston Drenthe.
In stoppage time, Van Nistelrooy beat his marker Juanito with a powerful run down the right and fired a low cross shot past Castro to secure the points for the visitors.
Crowd trouble forced the Primera Liga match between Espanyol and Barcelona to be halted for several minutes during the second half on Saturday.
Home side Espanyol were 1-0 in front when television pictures showed a flare being lobbed from the upper stand in the direction of the fans below, leading referee Medina Cantalejo to take the players off the pitch for almost ten minutes.
The game was eventually restarted and Thierry Henry profited from a defensive mix-up to poke into an empty net and cancel out Coro's opener for Espanyol.
Then a controversial last-gasp penalty allowed Lionel Messi to give Barcelona an unlikely, but deserved, victory.
Villarreal, who host Celtic in the Champions League on Tuesday, had to wait until the second half before opening the score at Gijon when Rossi picked up a loose ball in the area and gave Sporting goalkeeper Ivan Cuellar no chance.
It was a frustrating night for Sporting whose Croatian striker Mate Bilic spurned several chances. They are rooted to the bottom without a point, having already conceded 20 goals.