Athletic Bilbao strike late to hold Valencia

Madrid (AFP) - Valencia's push for a return to the Champions League next season suffered a setback as Aritz Aduriz's controversial stoppage time equaliser handed Athletic Bilbao a 1-1 draw on Thursday.

The visitors looked on course for all three points when Argentine winger Rodrigo de Paul slotted home his first La Liga goal on the hour mark.

However, Valencia were reduced to 10 men seven minutes from time as Nicolas Otamendi saw red for a wild challenge on Mikel San Jose and Nuno Espirito Santo's men were left infuriated as Aduriz tapped home from an offside position after Borja Viguera's initial shot had come off the post.

Valencia now trail third-placed Atletico Madrid by three points and are just one clear of Sevilla in the battle for the final Champions League place.

Los Che started the brighter and Athletic goalkeeper Gorka Iraizoz rode his luck when he spiled Paco Alcacer's drive and then gratefully saw the referee uninterested after clashing with Rodrigo as both men went for the loose ball.

Athletic's best chance of the opening 45 minutes fell to Inaki Williams, but he couldn?t steer the ball home after Carlos Gurpegi had flicked on a corner at the near post.

The hosts were desperately unlucky not to lead early in the second period, though, as Diego Alves produced a stunning save to deny San Jose heading home another corner.

Otamendi was next to come to Valencia's rescue as he cleared Aduriz's goalbound header off the line.

However, it was Valencia who made the breakthrough against the run of play as Rodrigo's pass was dummied by Alcacer to create the space for De Paul to side-foot his first league goal for Valencia into the bottom corner.

Valencia could have added to their advantage as Rodrigo flashed a volley wide from Alvaro Negredo's cross and was then denied by a fine save from Iraizoz.

But they had to see out the final stages a man down after Otamendi's dismissal and were undone as Aduriz rolled home his 20th goal of the season in dramatic fashion.