Valencia slump to 2-1 defeat at home to Espanyol

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MADRID, Oct 7 (Reuters) Valencia missed the chance to take over at the top of the Primera Liga when they slumped to a 2-1 defeat at home to Espanyol.

The home side took the lead after five minutes through Ruben Baraja but Espanyol hit back with a spectacular volleyed equaliser from midfielder Albert Riera and a late breakaway goal by Luis Garcia to claim a rare win at the Mestalla yesterday.

The defeat ended Valencia's five-match winning run in the league and left them third in the table, level on 15 points with regional rivals Villarreal and one behind leaders Real Madrid who host Recreativo Huelva on Sunday.

Espanyol move up to fifth on 13 points, one behind city rivals Barcelona who entertain sixth-placed Atletico Madrid on Sunday.

Valencia looked to be on course for a sixth win in a row when Baraja put them in front with a powerful header, rising above two defenders to nod home after a David Villa corner.

Villa almost doubled the lead six minutes later with the goal at his mercy after a dazzling run through midfield but keeper Carlos Kameni made a great block.

DOUBLE SETBACK The Spain striker was forced off the pitch with an ankle injury soon after and Valencia suffered a double setback when Espanyol qualised with a stunning goal in the 21st minute.

Valdo floated a fine cross to the far side of the area and Riera, given his first call up by Spain on Friday, controlled with his chest and fired a spectacular angled volley into the net.

Raul Tamudo almost put Espanyol in front a minute later when he hit the base of the post from point-blank range and Valencia keeper Timo Hildebrand produced a superb reaction save to stop a tricky free kick later in the half.

Valencia appeared to have gained the upper hand after the break and substitute Joaquin was denied when Kameni stopped a powerful close-range shot from the winger.

The game looked as though it was heading for a draw until Espanyol midfielder Valdo clipped a great first-time past behind the Valencia defence 10 minutes from time.

Luis Garcia raced clear of the back four and steered a low shot past the advancing Hildebrand into the far corner.

REUTERS TB AS0438

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