Wesley Sneijder earned champions Real Madrid a 1-0 home victory over Recreativo Huelva to ease the pressure on coach Bernd Schuster.
|Guti has a quick rub of Sneijder's buzz-cut [AFP]
The win took Real second above Villarreal, whose 17-match unbeaten run in the Spanish Primera Liga ended with a surprise 3-0 home defeat by Real Valladolid.
Schuster received the public backing of Real Madrid at the beginning of the week despite poor recent performances but the side continued to labour against second-bottom Recre on Saturday.
Dutch midfielder Sneijder scored with a deflected long-range shot after 39 minutes and although the visitors offered little in attack, the narrow advantage made for a tense second half.
The home crowd whistled their team off at the end and will have been concerned to see striker Gonzalo Higuain leave the pitch on a stretcher with a twisted left ankle in the second half, joining Ruud van Nistelrooy, Arjen Robben and Fabio Cannavaro on the injury list.
"It was important to win for many reasons, but not so special as you all made out," Schuster said in a swipe at media speculation over his job security.
Villarreal started their unbeaten run with a 2-0 home win over Valladolid in April but were always second best at the Madrigal.
Jonathan Sesma scored twice and Pedro Leon made it 3-0 from a free kick just before the interval to earn Valladolid their first away points this season.
"It had to happen some time," Villarreal coach Manuel Pellegrini said.
"We needed to be focused to beat Valladolid and we weren't. They beat us comfortably. It's been bad day."
Real, with 26 points from 12 matches, are two behind Barcelona who host Getafe on Sunday.
Villarreal are third on 25, one ahead of Valencia and Sevilla who drew 0-0 at the Sanchez Pizjuan in the late game.
Sevilla made the running throughout but were frustrated by Valencia's massed ranks, as the visitors appeared content to play for a point.