Valencia 2-2 Real Madrid: Gary Neville's side grab late equaliser
By AFP Sport
Last Updated: 04/01/16 9:19am
Gary Neville is still without a La Liga victory with Valencia but would have been pleased to see his side come from behind twice to draw 2-2 in a thrilling encounter with 10-man Real Madrid.
Real took the lead after 16 minutes at the Mestalla as Karim Benzema, Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo combined superbly before the French striker slotted home, but Dani Parejo levelled from the penalty spot on the stroke of half-time.
Moments after Ronaldo felt he should have had a penalty, Real Madrid went a man down as Mateo Kovacic saw a straight red card for a wild lunge on Joao Cancelo.
Bale then thought he'd given Real the victory with a brilliant header from a free-kick with nine minutes to go, but Paco Alcacer equalised just 70 seconds later to share the spoils.
A draw leaves Neville still looking for his first La Liga win since taking charge of Valencia last month.
Madrid, meanwhile, are now four points adrift of leaders Atletico Madrid and two behind Barcelona having also played a game more than the European champions.
Rafa Benitez has been publicly backed by Real president Florentino Perez, but media reports in recent weeks have suggested French legend and the club's B team coach Zinedine Zidane could be promoted to the top job at the Bernabeu if results don't improve.
In contrast to his recent receptions at the Santiago Bernabeu, Benitez was given a hero's welcome on his return to the Mestalla after guiding Valencia to two La Liga titles in three years over a decade ago.
And Benitez couldn't have wished for a better start as Benzema was fed by a lovely interchange of passes between Bale and Ronaldo to slot home his 16th goal in 17 appearances this season.
However, in keeping with many games this season, Benitez's men failed to maintain their early intensity and allowed Valencia to take control as the first half progressed.
Cancelo headed wide a golden chance from Rodrigo de Paul's inviting cross before Aymen Abdennour fired a loose ball inside the area just wide.
Madrid had been awarded three controversial penalties in their last two matches, but were left feeling hard done by just before the break when Bale thought he had been chopped down inside the area.
Valencia immediately broke up the other end and were awarded a spot-kick when Pepe dived in on Andre Gomes and former Madrid midfielder Parejo converted the resulting penalty.
Madrid were left with a mountain to climb 20 minutes from time when Kovacic recklessly took out Cancelo and was shown a straight red card.
Despite their numerical disadvantage Bale's brilliant looping header from Toni Kroos's free-kick put the visitors back in the driving seat.
Yet, they again couldn't defend a lead as shortly afterwards Alcacer headed home from Rodrigo's knockdown to preserve Valencia's unbeaten home record in La Liga stretching back to November 2014.
And it should have been even better for Valencia as Alvaro Negredo failed to beat Navas when clean through on goal in stoppage time.
Neville's men are now 13 points off the top four, though, as Villarreal strengthened their grip on the final Champions League place when Bruno Soriano's penalty deep into stoppage time handed them a 2-1 win at Deportivo la Coruna.