Espanyol brought their miserable five-match losing streak to an end with a deserved win at home to fellow strugglers Almeria.
The Barcelona-based side looked nervous following their recent poor form, but struck a huge psychological blow as they took the lead on the stroke of half-time, through Javi Marquez.
And Ferran Corominas wrapped up a deserved win for the Catalans with a second goal late on to give Mauricio Pochettino's men a huge boost and relieve pressure on the Argentinian coach.
Things were not so good for Hugo Sanchez as he was sacked as Almeria coach after the defeat. Sanchez had been in charge at Almeria for almost a year and saved the Andalusians from relegation last season.
Valencia missed out on the chance to go third after being held to a goalless draw at Deportivo La Coruna.
Los Che were second best for much of the contest with Juan Rodriguez coming closest to a goal for Depor with a 35th-minute header which hit the bar. Valencia stay in fourth - a point behind Sevilla, who lost 2-1 at home to Getafe on Saturday. Depor move up a place to sixth.
Atletico Madrid were indebted to goalkeeper Sergio Asenjo for helping them escape from their Primera Division trip to fellow strugglers Tenerife with a 1-1 draw.
Asenjo was beaten after just three minutes when Francisco Nino put Tenerife ahead, but the €4.5 million summer signing from Real Valladolid saved everything the home side could throw at him after that - which proved to be a considerable amount. The pick of his stops was a brilliant penalty save in the 43rd minute to keep out Nino's spot-kick, but just as crucial was his injury-time block to deny the same player as Tenerife almost took the points with the last attack of the match.
Jose Manuel Jurado drew Atletico level on 19 minutes with a well-worked goal. Cleber Santana's pass into Diego Forlan on the edge of the area was stabbed into Jurado's path and the former Real Madrid midfielder powered into the box before smashing an unstoppable shot past Sergio Aragoneses.
Villarreal's dismal start to the season now looks a distant memory as Ernesto Valverde's upwardly mobile side ended 2009 in ninth spot after seeing off Racing Santander with two second-half goals.
Joseba Llorente, who struck an injury-time winner against Atletico Madrid last weekend, opened the scoring in the 51st minute and Giuseppe Rossi doubled the lead 21 minutes later as Villarreal continue to make up for lost time following their worst start to a Primera Division season.
Real Valladolid picked up their first Primera Division win since October - and only their third of the season - as substitute Haris Medunjanin's 90th-minute winner earned a 2-1 home victory over Sporting Gijon.
The Bosnian fired in from Alberto Bueno's pass 12 minutes after coming on to complete Valladolid's comeback after they had trailed to Luis Moran's opener in the 13th minute. Nivaldo converted a close-range header to level just before the half-hour mark and both sides had chances to win it before Medunjanin settled the contest.
Malaga's miserable campaign took a much-needed turn for the better, as the Andalusians beat in-form Real Mallorca to secure their first league victory since the opening day of the season.
Fernando Fernandez gave Malaga the lead halfway through the first period and although Mallorca hit back through Julio Alvarez 11 minutes after the break, Fernando Forestieri struck the winner late on to secure a rare success for the Andalusians.