Barcelona see record run ended by strugglers Gijon

Madrid: League leaders Barcelona saw their
record winning run come to an end with a shock 1-1 draw at
Sporting Gijon and it could have been worse had David Villa
not scored a brilliant 79th-minute equaliser to salvage a

Barcelona had won 16 consecutive league games to beat the
old mark of the great Real Madrid side of 1960/61. But the
champions saw their historical sequence broken yesterday and
the two dropped points are a real boost for title rivals Real.

Barcelona are now eight points ahead of Real in the
Spanish first division and Jose Mourinho`s side will want to
capitalise on the rare slip by winning at Espanyol on Sunday.

Unfashionable Sporting, two points above the relegation
zone, took the lead through David Barral after 16th minutes
and Barcelona needed a delightful chip from Villa late on to
snatch a point.

It was the first away points dropped all season for
Barcelona, who had won all 10 of their away games prior to
this game, and coach Pep Guardiola will hope for a better
display on Wednesday when his side travel to Arsenal for the
first leg of their last 16 Champions League tie.

A fired-up Sporting started the better of the two sides
and took a surprise 16th-minute lead as Barral cut inside from
the left flank and left Gerard Pique in his wake before firing
low into the corner.

Barcelona don`t often go behind and found it difficult to
respond against hosts who defended deep in numbers.

The champions didn`t have a noteworthy effort on goal
until just after the half hour mark when Andres Iniesta
dribbled past his marker and shot across goal but goalkeeper
Ivan Cuellar saved well.

On 53 minutes Brazilian right back Dani Alves nipped past
his man and cut the ball back for Xavi but the Spanish
international scuffed his shot and Cuellar smothered the

Two minutes later Lionel Messi was foiled by Cuellar at
his near post and the outstanding Alves almost scored a minute

Sporting could barely get out of their half but Barcelona
did not make the breakthrough until the 79th minute with Villa
showing great vision to float a delightful chip over Cuellar.

Villa did not celebrate the goal out of respect for
hometown club Gijon where he began his career before going on
to become a world superstar.

Elsewhere the future of Atletico Madrid coach Quique
Sanchez Flores is hanging by a thread after a Joaquin brace
helped Valencia to a 2-1 comeback win at the Vicente Calderon
on Saturday.

Joaquin scored an 86th minute winner to punish Atletico,
who have won just once in 2011 under Flores, and Valencia move
two points above Villarreal into third place.

Atletico are seven points off the top six, with the the
pre-season target of Champions League football out of sight,
and Flores could face the axe with his old team Valencia,
where he played for 10 years and who he managed for two
seasons, possibly putting the final nail in his coffin.

"The fans cheer me up because they appreciate things and
that`s why I will do everything I possibly can to turn things
around," said Flores.

Atletico got the perfect start with Jose Antonio Reyes
putting them ahead after just three minutes, however, Joaquin
levelled for Valencia on 41 minutes.

Uruguayan World Cup star Diego Forlan missed a crucial
penalty on 56 minutes and Joaquin scored a fine winner curling
in a right-footed shot from just outside the area with four
minutes left.

It propelled Valencia into third and was the perfect
preparation for their Champions League last 16 first leg match
at home to Schalke on Tuesday.

In other matches, struggling Racing Santander host
Sevilla at El Sardinero later on Saturday with new Racing
coach Marcelino hoping for a win in his first match in charge.

Bureau Report

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