Gary Neville ended his long wait for a first La Liga win as Valencia coach as late goals from Alvaro Negredo and Denis Cheryshev helped his side come from behind to beat Espanyol 2-1.
Oscar Duarte's 52nd-minute header gave the struggling Catalans the lead and looked set to condemn Neville to a third consecutive league defeat which would have left his side just two points above the relegation zone. But substitute Negredo pulled them level with a deflected finish on 70 minutes and new recruit Cheryshev scored with a diving header six minutes later to give Valencia the lead for the first time in 10 league games under Neville.
Although the remaining quarter hour brought a couple of nervy moments for the hosts, they hung on to claim their first league victory since beating Celta Vigo 5-1 on November 5. That winless run had increased the pressure on England coach Neville in his first job in management and another loss, against a side battling relegation, would have increased the pressure on the Englishman to almost unbearable levels, with disgruntled fans already calling for him to go.
Instead, victory saw his side climb from 15th in the table up to 11th, while Espanyol lie just one point above the drop zone. The Mestalla was close to full after just 16,000 fans turned up for the second leg of Valencia's Copa del Rey semi-final tie with Barcelona on Wednesday, following the 7-0 first-leg trouncing at the Nou Camp.
A late goal by Wilfird Kaptoum denied Valencia what would have been a hollow win on that occasion, but the match with Espanyol mattered far more. The Catalans were in even worse form than Valencia, taking just two points from their last six games, and manager Constantin Galca was also under pressure following last week's 5-0 defeat at home to Real Sociedad.
Neville was able to bring back captain Paco Alcacer after three weeks out and gave a first appearance to goalkeeper Diego Alves since he tore cruciate knee ligaments last May. But he was without Jose Gaya, Shkrodan Mustafi and Andre Gomes. Valencia made a positive start, but could have fallen behind early on when Felipe Caicedo diverted a cross towards goal, forcing Alves to brilliantly tip the ball away, and Mamadou Sylla somehow headed wide at the far post.
Valencia had most of the ball but struggled to create many openings before half-time. Alcacer side-footed wide of the near post with the clearest chance for his side, then went for goal from outside the area and hopelessly missed the target. Cheryshev was one of Valencia's most active players, and he came close to scoring before the break, hitting the side-netting with a left-footed drive, while Daniel Parejo's free-kick was tipped over the bar by Pau Lopez.
The second half was even more open. Joao Cancelo's low cross hit a post and the loose ball fell to Cheryshev, who volleyed over the bar with the goal gaping.
Espanyol then won two corners and struck from the second. Alves came to catch the cross but got nowhere near it and Duarte got there first to head into an empty net and stun the home fans. Espanyol caused havoc with another corner, but neither Duarte nor Pape Diop could make the most of it, Alves saving the ball on the line.
Neville brought Negredo on for Rodrigo Moreno and the substitution eventually paid off. Cancelo was the driving force behind the equaliser, barging his way into the box from deep and squaring to Negredo, who stabbed at the ball and ssaw it bounced off Duarte and into the bottom corner.
Valencia could not settle for a draw and did not. They finally took the lead for the first time under Neville as Sofiane Feghouli received the ball from Cancelo and whipped it to the back post where Cheryshev, diving head first, nodded it in.
It sent the Mestalla into a frenzy, but Neville's side kept their cool to hold on for three points and relieve the pressure on their under-fire boss.
Villarreal 1, Malaga 0
Villarreal's top-four hopes remain on track after Roberto Soldado's early goal earned them a 1-0 Primera Division win over Malaga.
The former Tottenham striker scored the game's only goal after 18 minutes, firing into the bottom corner from the edge of the area after a one-two with Leo Baptistao. Although they only managed one goal, Marcelino's men were utterly dominant and worthy of a win that extended their unbeaten run in the league to 11 games.
They stay in fourth place, 11 points ahead of nearest challengers Sevilla, while Malaga remain in 10th spot. Soldado tested Malaga goalkeeper Carlos Kameni with less than two minutes on the clock, forcing the keeper to parry his shot, defender Raul Albentosa eventually clearing the loose ball.
Villarreal then had two penalty appeals turned down in the space of a couple of minutes, but did not have to wait long to go ahead. Soldado held the ball up well on the edge of the area and exchanged passes with Baptistao before picking his spot, his shot creeping under the body of Kameni. It was just a fourth league goal of the season for Soldado, his first in exactly two months.
Kameni did manage to prevent a second goal soon after, tipping a shot from Jonathan dos Santos over. His opposite number Alphonse Areola had to make a double save at the other end to deny Croatian forward Duje Cop.
Malaga forward Juanpi had the visitors' best chance after the break, shooting first time but narrowly missing the target.
Deportivo la Coruna 2, Real Betis 2
Deportivo La Coruna's winless run extended to eight Primera Division games as Real Betis battled to a 2-2 draw at the Riazor.
The hosts, who were boosted ahead of the match by the confirmation midfielder Pedro Mosquera had signed a contract extension, started brightly and took the lead on 15 minutes when Alex Bergantinos headed in from a near post corner.
However, the lead did not last long.
Betis, who recorded their first La Liga win in 10 matches when beating Valencia 1-0 last Sunday, were level in the 20th minute.
Swiss midfielder Juan Manuel Vargas got away down the left and floated the ball through the penalty area, where 19-year-old Charly Musonda, on loan from Chelsea, headed past goalkeeper German Lux.
The visitors then went ahead on 37 minutes following a well-worked free-kick 25 yards out when Vargas drilled a low shot around the wall and inside the near post.
Deportivo equalised on 51 minutes as Moroccan midfielder Faycal Fajr swept in a low cross from Fernando Navarro at the far post - with the Betis defence all claiming offside.
Victor Sanchez's men pressed for a winner and Adan tipped an attempted lob from Fajr over the crossbar, before Vargas cleared Lucas' goalbound shot off the line.
The forward thought he had scored with 15 minutes left when slotting home from a tight angle, but was flagged offside.
Lucas was denied again by a smart save from Adan before the keeper tipped over a late header from substitute Oriol Riera as Deportivo had to settle for a fifth successive draw in La Liga.