BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Valencia's bid to stay in the Spanish league title hunt took a blow on Sunday when it lost 2-1 at crosstown rival Levante.
While Levante continued its modest turnaround under new coach Lucas Alcaraz, Valencia dropped points for a second straight match to trail leader Real Madrid by six points back in fourth place.
Levante's defensive tactics stymied Valencia's attack as it extended its unbeaten run to three straight games thanks to second-half goals by Victor Casadesus and substitute Jose Morales.
"That Valencia had more possession and reached our area more often fits the script," Alcaraz said. "Another thing is the essence of the game. They had six shots on our goal and we had five. We played with order, intent and commitment."
Valencia's Alvaro Negredo made his first start of the season in place of injured Spain striker Paco Alcacer, and the former Manchester City player had the best chances in the first half with a pair of headers that sailed high.
Casadesus grabbed the lead in the 58th minute when he held off his marker to awkwardly head in a corner kick.
Valencia substitute Dani Parejo worked a one-two with Negredo to level in the 73rd. But Morales put Levante back in front less than a minute later when he scored from long distance.
"Levante only tried to defend and did that very well, but we deserved the victory," Valencia coach Nuno Espirito Santo said after his team's second loss of the season. "Maybe this loss will help us grow."
Levante rose two points clear of the relegation zone. Levante lost its first game under Alcaraz but has gone unbeaten in its last three.
Elsewhere, Rayo Vallecano edged seventh-place Celta Vigo 1-0 at home to break a three-game losing streak, and Villarreal closed two within two points of Celta through a 2-1 win at home over Getafe.
Cordoba also squandered a two-goal lead and an excellent chance to get its first win after Elche rallied for a 2-2 draw.
Rayo got its winner when forward Alberto Bueno headed in Gael Kakuta's lobbed pass in the 20th for his sixth goal of the season.
Rayo hung on to ensure it climbed into 11th place while dealing Celta its first away loss this season.
Villarreal left back Mario Gaspar opened the scoring in the 38th and Gerrard Moreno made it 2-0 in the 43rd. Mehdi Lacen kept the result in doubt until the finish with a goal for Getafe in the 61st.
Cordoba was in control at Elche after midfielder Borja Garcia set up Fidel Chaves in the 12th and Fede Cartabia in the 60th.
But Daniel Pinillos fouled Faycal Fajr in the area, allowing David Lomban to pull one back from the penalty spot in the 63rd.
Elche striker Jonathas then made amends for missing a penalty in the sixth minute by volleying in a cross in the 75th minute to earn a share of the points.
Cordoba remained in last place and the only winless team in the league.
Elche stayed in the drop zone along with Almeria before it visits Granada on Monday.