Real Madrid overcame the second-minute dismissal of Iker Casillas to beat Espanyol 1-0 at Cornella on Sunday night and move to within five points of fierce rivals Barcelona at the top of the Primera Division.
Casillas was shown a straight red card for a supposed foul on Jose Callejon just outside the box after less than 90 seconds, but the Espanyol forward went to ground far too easily after minimal contact with the Spain keeper.
The dismissal - only the second in Casillas' distinguished career at Madrid - produced an immediate reshuffle from Real coach Jose Mourinho, who sent on reserve keeper Adan and hauled off Argentina winger Angel di Maria.
Despite their numerical disadvantage, Madrid looked the more dangerous and Marcelo gave the visitors the lead midway through the first half when he drilled home from a tight angle.
Emmanuel Adebayor missed three glorious chances to extend Madrid's lead, but Marcelo's strike proved enough as Mourinho's side kept Espanyol at bay with relative ease in the second half.
Villarreal were unable to reclaim third place off Valencia after slumping to another surprise defeat, this time at the hands of struggling Deportivo La Coruna.
A week after seeing their unbeaten home record ended by relegation-threatened Levante, Villarreal suffered another 1-0 loss after going down to a Depor side who had lost six of their last seven league and cup games.
Alberto Lopo scored the only goal of the game in the 60th minute as Villarreal, who dropped to fourth place following Valencia's win over Atletico Madrid last night, lost only their sixth match of the season.
Hercules scored twice in the last 10 minutes to snatch victory away from Real Zaragoza and end their run of four successive defeats.
The Alicante outfit, whose losing streak had left them just a point above the relegation zone, looked set for another setback as they fell behind after four minutes against in-form Zaragoza, Braulio the goalscorer.
That is the way the score stayed until the 80th minute, but a stunning long-range strike from Francisco Farinos got Hercules back on level terms and the hosts then went onto claim all three points thanks to an 89th-minute winner from top scorer David Trezeguet.
Two goals in the last 10 minutes saw Malaga fight back from 2-0 down to secure a hard-earned point at home to Getafe.
Goals from Miku and Adrian Colunga had seen Getafe race into the lead after just 23 minutes, and although Julio Baptista's penalty 10 minutes from the end gave Malaga hope of a revival, it looked as if the visitors would hold on until Jose Salomon Rondon's dramatic leveller deep into added time.
Levante climbed out of the Primera Division relegation zone with a hard-fought 1-0 victory over fellow strugglers Almeria.
Felipe Caicedo's strike eight minutes into the second half proved decisive at the Ciutat de Valencia and lifted Levante - who started the day third-bottom - two points clear of the drop zone.
Veteran striker Raul Tamudo got the only goal of the game as Real Sociedad boosted their hopes of European qualification by beating struggling Osasuna 1-0 at Estadio Anoeta.
The 33-year-old was on hand to tap home with 17 minutes to play as the hosts moved up to ninth in the Primera Division table and deepen Osasuna's relegation fears.