Liga - Late Betis strike beats Bilbao
Athletic Bilbao missed the chance to move into a Champions League place in La Liga when losing Javi Martinez to a red card and being defeated 2-1 at Real Betis.
Marcelo Bielsa's side had won seven of their previous nine games in all competitions, including a Copa del Rey tie against Mirandes in midweek that secured them a final date with Barcelona, but were outplayed by a Betis side battling against relegation.
Betis took the lead after 10 minutes through Ruben Castro before Bilbao levelled through Martinez 13 minutes later. However, the defender was later dismissed for a second yellow card and as a result the Basque side would probably have been content with a point.
Even that much was denied them in injury time when Bilbao defender Nelson struck a fantastic effort that pulled his side three points away from danger and left Bilbao in eighth place.
Betis were without a win in four in the league but enjoyed the better of the opening exchanges and they deserved to be in front when taking the lead after just 10 minutes through a splendid finish from Ruben.
The home side constructed a nice move down the left wing but were somewhat fortunate when an attempted pass for Jefferson Montero instead deflected off the back of Martinez and into the path of Ruben. The forward produced a delightful first-time shot with his right instep that bent around goalkeeper Gorka Iraizoz and inside the far post.
Bilbao were struggling to create chances but suddenly found themselves level after 23 minutes. Susaeta delivered a teasing corner from the right and Martinez stooped to head home unmarked from eight yards.
Though Iker Muniain then fed Inigo Perez for a thunderous effort from 30 yards that forced Fabricio into a rather theatrical diving save, it was Betis who remained the better side as they applied pressure on the visitors.
Montero, a sporadic and unpredictable threat, drove one shot just wide of the post while playmaker Benat was a menace, either with his delivery from wide positions or when venturing into the box to get a shot away.
The half enjoyed a dramatic conclusion, yet no further goals. Firstly, Jorge Molina broke clear on the right for Betis, only to try and fail to find Ruben with a square pass when a shot would have been the better option. The home side went even closer in injury time when Montero slalomed into the box, exchanged passes with Molina and hammered an effort against the bar from close range.
There was even time for Bilbao to carve out a rare chance from open play, but Fabricio was equal to Perez's fierce low drive from the edge of the box as the keeper got down to his right to save.
Having gone so close to taking the lead at the conclusion of the first half, Betis threatened again at the start of the second. Benat played in Ruben with a quite delightful disguised pass and the forward struck the bar when his shot came off Iraizoz. Salva Sevilla headed in on the rebound but was rightly given offside.
Bilbao then created an excellent chance of their own as Susaeta dinked a lovely cross into the box for Fernando Llorente. The Spain striker had scored in four consecutive league games going into the match and almost made it five, only to see his firm header acrobatically saved by the diving Fabricio.
It was an all too brief moment of threat from Bilbao though, and after Sevilla wasted a good chance when heading wide, Betis were given further hope of a home victory when Martinez was shown a second yellow card for raising his arms in a challenge with Jonathan. It was a harsh decision and left Bilbao on the back foot.
Betis pushed for a winner and the influential Benat saw one effort take a deflection off Llorente and force Iraizoz into a fine save at his near post. Borja Ekiza was then fortunate not to concede a penalty for a clear handball but Bilbao were beaten in any case in injury time.
A corner from Benat was cleared into the path of Nelson and he lashed home a brilliant volley that left Iraizoz with no chance.
Earlier on Saturday, Atletico Madrid were held to a 0-0 draw at Racing Santander. The draw took Atleti one point ahead of Bilbao.