MADRID (AFP) – Barcelona snatched a vital 1-0 win away to Valencia on Sunday thanks to Sergio Busquets s volleyed winner deep into stoppage time.
The Spanish international pounced after Diego Alves had made a great save from Neymar s header to ensure Barca close to within two points of leaders Real Madrid.
And on a day overshadowed by the death of a Deportivo la Coruna fan in violent clashes before Atletico Madrid s 2-0 win over the Galicians, there were more unsavoury scenes at Mestalla as Lionel Messi was struck on the head by a plastic bottle thrown from the crowd with Barca celebrating the winner.
A first home defeat of the season means Valencia remain nine points off the top in fifth.
“We were lucky to score in the last minute. These are three points that will give us a huge boost,” Busquets told Canal Plus.
“We never settle for a draw, we tried in every way possible and in the end it came from a corner. We had been attacking them for a few minutes and when the ball fell to me from Alves I gave it everything I had.”
Barca boss Luis Enrique signalled how exacting a test he expected his side to face by naming Javier Mascherano alongside Busquets in midfield for the first time in his tenure.
However, they struggled to control the game in the early stages as Rodrigo forced Claudio Bravo into an early save with a rasping drive.
Barca slowly grew into the game, but their better chances arrived via long balls towards Neymar, while Luis Suarez ought to have put the visitors in front on 14 minutes.
Neymar laid Gerard Pique s pass from the back into the path of the Uruguayan, but he fired straight at Diego Alves with just the Brazilian goalkeeper to beat.
Barca were then fortunate not to be reduced to 10 men when Neymar appeared to headbutt Nicolas Otamendi, but the incident went unseen by referee Fernandez Borbalan.
Andre Gomes twice came close to giving Valencia a half-time lead as he curled a shot from the edge of the area just wide before firing into the side-netting from a narrow angle after rounding Bravo.
The hosts also started the brighter after the break, but Rodrigo failed to connect with a volley when well-placed inside the area.
Suarez passed up another great chance when he anticipated Otamendi s header back to Alves and robbed the ball ahead of the keeper, but then shot into the side-netting with the goal gaping.
Moments later it was Valencia who came close as the game swung from one end to the other, Pique clearing Rodrigo s drive off his own goalline.
Suarez s frustrating night continued as he was wrongly flagged offside when he did finally find the net from Dani Alves s cross.
Yet, in their push for a winner, Barca were opened up on the counter-attack and had Bravo to thank for making a fine save to prevent Sofiane Feghouli from opening the scoring.
The Chilean keeper had to be at his best again 12 minutes from time to beat Alvaro Negredo s sweetly struck volley to safety.
And those interventions were to prove crucial as three minutes into stoppage time Alves parried Neymar s header from Messi s tempting cross and Busquets was on hand to force the ball home despite the goalkeeper s best efforts to keep it out.