Last-gasp Real see off Rayo

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REAL MADRID left it very late before clinching a vital 3-1 home victory over lowly Rayo Vallecano.

The reigning European champions clearly had one eye on Tuesday night Champions League clash with Manchester United and were well below par throughout.

Vicente del Bosque rested French pair Zinedine Zidane and Claude Makelele, but still fielded a high-quality line-up.

However, the visitors moved ahead with a goal from Luis Cembranos just eight minutes in and seemed destined to hold on for a famous victory.

Real found a leveller though when substitute Fernando Morientes netted with barely five minutes remaining, and there was heartbreak for the plucky visitors when the same player fired home in injury-time to clinch maximum points.

To add insult to injury, youngster Javier Portillo added a third to give the scoreline a flattering edge.

The win moves Real six points clear at the head of La Liga, whilst Rayo's battle against relegation has now become even more desperate.

Barcelona slipped to their first defeat under the stewardship of Raddy Antic as they went down to a 2-0 away defeat at Villarreal.

Jorge Lopez set the Yellow Submarines on their way from the penalty-spot twelve minutes into the second-half.

Barca then had Juan Pablo Sorin sent-off and the hosts wrapped up the points in the final minute when Javier Calleja fired home.

Valencia saw their title ambitions all but extinguished after a 2-0 defeat in a fiery clash with Real Betis.

Six players were booked while Valencia had both Francisco Rufete and Ruben Baraja dismissed in the second period.

Fernando and Arzu grabbed the goals for Betis as the Seville-based outfit maintained their own push for a European place.

Espanyol picked up another valuable point in their bid to stave off relegation as they played out a goalless home draw with Celta Vigo.

The hosts had the better of the chances but could not find a way through a well-organised Celta rear-guard.

Espanyol 0-0 Celta Vigo
Real Betis 2-0 Valencia
Real Madrid 3-1 Rayo Vallecano
Villarreal 2-0 Barcelona

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