Villarreal (Spain), April 8 (IANS) Victor Ruiz scored a goal and assisted in one as Villarreal proved to be the better side in a 3-1 victory over Athletic Club Bilbao to remain fifth in the La Liga football championship here.
The match on Friday between Villarreal, who are fifth in La Liga, and sixth-place Athletic got off to a bright start. While the struggle was fairly equal in midfield, the hosts were sharper on the attack and threatened twice in the early going before taking a 1-0 lead in the 17th minute on a goal by Ruiz, reports Efe.
Bilbao's response was not long in coming. Standing unmarked at the far post, Aymeric Laporte converted in the 20th minute off a corner kick from Benat Etxebarria.
Villarreal controlled possession for the rest of the first half, but suffered a blow in the 37th minute with an injury to Samu Castillejo, their best player of the night to that point.
And the roughly 18,000 fans at La Ceramica held their breath seconds before the half-time whistle as they watched a header from Bilbao veteran hitman Aritz Aduriz bounce harmlessly off the crossbar.
Barely two minutes into the second half, Cedric Bakambu tucked the ball inside the left post to make it 2-1 for Villarreal.
This time, the visitors failed to react and the home side grew more dominant as the minutes passed, culminating shortly before the hour mark with a third goal, courtesy of Adrian Lopez with an assist from Ruiz.
Villarreal looked set to see out the match comfortably until Ruiz was ejected in the 74th minute on a straight red card for a foul against Bilbao forward Inaki Williams.
The numerical advantage boosted Athletic's level of play and they spent the final minutes menacing the Villarreal goal, but the hosts held on to take all three points.
With 54 points from 31 matches, Villarreal lead Bilbao by four and are likewise just four points behind slumping Sevilla, leaving them poised to make a charge for fourth place and the accompanying ticket to the 2017-2018 Champions League.