Barcelona, Jan 30 (AP) Barcelona avenged its only defeatin the Spanish league this season with a record-equaling 3-0win over Hercules, provisionally moving seven points clear ofsecond-place Real Madrid.
To add to its fierce rival''s plight, Barcelona''s 15thconsecutive league win equals Madrid''s record that had stoodsince the 1960-61 season. In this winning stretch, Barcelonahas outscored its opponents 57-6.
Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola called it an "immensehonour" to equal Madrid''s record.
Pedro Rodriguez scored the opener in the 43rd, blastingin a pass from Xavi Hernandez, and Lionel Messi scored twogoals in the last three minutes to seal the win at Rico Perezstadium.
Hercules had stunned the defending champions in week 2with a 2-0 victory at Camp Nou, but Barcelona dominatedthroughout yesterday and could have scored more goals.
"We knew this visit was important," said Barcelona rightback Dani Alves. "We saw it in the first round. (Hercules) isa well-organised team and pressures a lot." Barcelona has 58points.
In an up-and-down opening, Hercules had the best chance,David Trezeguet poking Nelson Valdez''s pass just past the leftpost in the 21st.
After the scare from the former France striker, Barcelonatook control of possession and the game, and Pedro soonconverted Barcelona''s dominance into its first goal.
The 23-year-old Spanish international has scored 12 goalsthis season and eight in his last six games. The lastBarcelona player to score in six straight games was Ronaldo in1996-97.
"Pedro has a knack for scoring goals," Guardiola said.
"He runs a lot and pressures intensely."
Barcelona smothered Hercules in its own half after therestart, with Pedro having a goal disallowed in the 65th andMessi grazing the right post from inside the area shortlyafterward.
Hercules played with 10 men during the last 10 minutesafter Francisco Farinos was sent off for a second yellow card.
Messi soon took advantage with one of his trademarkleft-footed shots from the edge of the area in the 87th. TheArgentina star then pushed in a pass from Dani Alves forBarcelona''s third in the 89th.
Messi has 37 goals - 21 in the league - and nine doublesin all competitions this season.
Earlier, Sporting Gijon routed Mallorca 4-0 on Saturdayfor its first away win in the league this season, and Levantedowned Getafe 2-0. (More) AP SHN
Diego Castro headed home his eighth goal this season to put Sporting in front in the third minute, and Mallorcadefender Kevin Garcia redirected a shot into his own goal inthe 61st to make it 2-0.
Substitute Andre Castro added the third six minutes laterand Nacho Novo made it 4-0 in the 87th.
Sporting''s third straight win lifted it provisionallyinto 12th place and four points clear of the drop.
"A month ago, everything was black," said Sporting coachManuel Preciado, who was rumored to be close to being firedwith his team in the relegation zone. "And now everything isbright, but that isn''t so. There is a long way to go."
At Ciutat de Valencia stadium, Valmiro "Valdo" Lopesscored Levante''s opener in the 47th. Felipe Caicedo sealed thewin seven minutes later to end his team''s run of five weekswithout a victory. The Ecuadorean striker, who is on loan fromManchester City, has eight goals this season.
Getafe''s Manuel del Moral and Levante''s Francisco Nadalwere sent off after receiving a straight red card with 12minutes to play.
"They are better, but we were more focused and could haveeven scored more at the end," said Levante coach Luis Garcia.
Elsewhere, Real Sociedad moved four points from EuropaLeague positions through its comfortable 2-0 win over the19th-place Almeria, and Florent Sinama Pongolle gave Zaragozaa 2-1 victory over Malaga with an 87th-minute winner.
The Basque side went ahead right on halftime whendefender Ion Ansotegi headed in a pass from Raul Tamudo frominside the six-yard box. Ansotegi then returned the favor forTamudo in the 87th.
At La Rosaleda stadium, Zaragoza striker Nicolas Bertolocanceled out Malaga''s 16th-minute opener by Sergio "Duda"Barbosa with a header in the 31st. Just when a draw appearedcertain, Sinama''s well-placed strike earned Zaragoza''s thirdstraight win.
Malaga dropped into last place with its third consecutiveloss.
Later, Deportivo La Coruna takes on against Sevilla intrying to end a three-game losing streak. (AP) SHN