Real Betis striker Lorenzo Morón scored twice on his first team debut to give his side a narrow victory over Villarreal at the Estadio Benito Villamarín.
The Spaniard opened the scoring with a fine long-range effort, after Villarreal defender Daniele Bonera was red-carded for a dangerous challenge on Betis forward Rubén Castro.
Morón added his second after heading home a Fabián Ruiz cross, before away striker Carlos Bacca netted a consolation penalty.
Within touching distance of the top four positions, Villarreal’s trip to Andalusia was an opportunity to keep pace with the Champions League qualification challengers.
The visitors suffered the game’s first setback, however, as defender Bonera lunged late and high into a tackle with Castro, who had nipped in to win the ball ahead of the centre-back.
Betis profited from their numerical advantage just before half time, as Morón – who has scored over 40 goals for Betis’ second team – picked up a loose ball in midfield before firing an unstoppable shot past Villarreal goalkeeper Sergio Asenjo.
Villarreal almost equalised with an hour played, but forward Bacca hit the post after neat play involving Mario Gaspar and Manu Trigueros, and the follow-up effort from Jaume Costa was high and wide.
The home side doubled their advantage five minutes later, as Morón instinctively glanced in a header from Ruiz’s threatening delivery into the box.
Bacca, Villarreal’s greatest offensive asset, nearly scored from a long-distance attempt, but stopper Antonio Adán parried the strike to safety.
The Yellow Submarine received a lifeline with ten minutes remaining, as Bacca assertively converted from the penalty spot after Denis Cheryshev was felled inside the Betis area.
Yet, the goal failed to spur a comeback, and Betis almost struck a third following a fast counter-attack, but Morón was unable to score his hat-trick goal as he fired straight at Asenjo.
Triumph for Betis puts them in the league’s top half for now, although they can be overtaken by chasing Leganés, Getafe, Girona, and Athletic Bilbao who are positioned closely behind Los Verdiblancos.
For Villarreal, the result means they are in danger of falling adrift of Real Madrid and Valencia in the likely race for third and fourth position in the table.
Betis next play away to struggling Deportivo, while Villarreal welcome Alavés to the Estadio de la Cerámica.