REUTERS -- Fourth-placed Villarreal maintained their fine form since winning promotion back to La Liga when Ikechukwu Uche struck twice and captain Bruno Soriano scored a penalty in a 3-0 win at 10-man Levante on Sunday.
As attention turned to Spain's lesser lights after their four Champions League participants all won on Saturday, Valencia coach Miroslav Djukic's hopes of clinging on to his job receded when his side lost 2-1 at local rivals Elche.
Sevilla came out on top in a feisty Andalusian derby littered with bookings and some ugly racist chanting in the stands when they won 4-0 at home to city neighbours Real Betis.
Betis had defender Paulao sent off for a second yellow card three minutes before halftime and the defeat left Pepe Mel's team, who are competing in the Europa League this season, rooted to the bottom with nine points from 14 matches.
Sevilla are eighth on 19 points, two more than fellow Europa League participants Valencia in 11th. Elche, second division champions last term, also have 17 points in 10th.
"We played a fantastic match against a great rival like Betis," said Sevilla forward Carlos Bacca who scored the opening goal in the second minute at the Sanchez Pizjuan.
"It was a derby and they are always intense like finals," the Colombian told Canal Plus television.
"We knew we had to pressure them from the first minute as the home team and the early goal settled us."
In the early kickoff Levante goalkeeper Keylor Navas was shown a straight red card in the 10th minute at the Ciutat de Valencia stadium when he felled Villarreal forward Uche in the penalty area.
Midfielder Bruno, whose polished performances this season have prompted calls for him to be included in the Spain squad, stroked the ball into the net past hastily-introduced replacement keeper Javi Jimenez.
With an extra man Villarreal squandered a host of chances before Bruno threaded a pass through to Uche in the 74th minute and he fired a clinical shot low into the corner.
The speedy Nigerian then scored the goal of the game a minute from time with a spectacular overhead kick.
Villarreal, who spent a season in the second division last term and finished second behind Elche, have 27 points, seven behind Real Madrid in third after they thrashed Almeria 5-0 on Saturday.
Unbeaten leaders Barcelona (40 points) and second-placed Atletico Madrid (37) also recorded thumping wins, the former beating Granada 4-0 at the Nou Camp and the latter hammering Getafe 7-0 at the Calderon.
Villarreal coach Marcelino warned his players that holding on to fourth and qualifying for the Champions League would not be easy.
Athletic Bilbao, who play at Malaga on Monday, are four points behind in fifth and Real Sociedad a further three back in sixth after their 4-3 comeback win at home to Celta Vigo on Saturday.
"We are going to take things step by step," said Marcelino. "We are fourth and very happy with that but to finish fourth at the end of the season you have to do things very well for nine months.
"It's going to be tough to hold on to this position but what I am clear about is that we are going to fight in each match."
Espanyol climbed to ninth on 18 points when they won 4-1 at second-from-bottom Rayo Vallecano who had keeper Ruben Martinez sent off in the 25th minute at the Vallecas stadium in the Madrid suburbs.
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