BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Elche ended its excruciatingly long wait for a win in the Spanish league on Saturday when Villarreal was beaten 3-1 after Pere Milla scored a hat trick before he was carried off on a stretcher.
Last-placed Elche, a modest club from southern Spain, endured the entire first half of the league without a single win.
The victory finally came in Round 20 against a Villarreal side that beat Real Madrid last month and is fighting for a Champions League berth.
Meanwhile, Atletico Madrid conceded a late penalty and was held by relegation-threatened Getafe to 1-1.
Elche, playing under its third coach of the campaign, will still need a major turnaround to avoid relegation. It has just nine points and sits 11 points from safety.
“Anything is possible,” Elche goalkeeper Édgar Badia said of his team’s hopes of staying in the top-flight for a fourth consecutive season. “Our mentality is game by game and not look far ahead. It is not time to think about the past.”
Milla, playing in his fourth season at Elche, was injured after his treble and was taken off on a stretcher in the 58th minute with a suspected broken collarbone.
Milla opened the scoring when he fired a deflected ball past Pepe Reina three minutes after kickoff in Elche.
Gerard Moreno equalized in the 22nd with his eighth goal across all competitions from a pass by Álex Baena.
But Milla converted two penalties in the 48th and 52nd to ensure the 18,000 fans who turned out could finally have a reason to celebrate. The spectators did the wave at Martinez Valero Stadium in the final minutes. Elche player Omar Mascarell wept from relief.
“I haven’t been here that long, but I know the players and the club workers, and of course our fans who never abandoned us, who believed this win would come. This is for them,” said manager Pablo Machín, who took over in November.
Villarreal stayed in fifth place after a second straight loss.
“We made too many mistakes and when you do that you pay for it,” Villarreal defender Raúl Albiol said. “It was a bad day for the entire team. They played harder than we did, so they are the rightful winners.”
Atletico was in control until Saúl Ñíguez gave away the penalty when a cross hit his flaying arm in the area.
Getafe striker Enes Unal rifled the spot kick past Jan Oblak for the 83rd-minute equalizer.
Ángel Correa opened in the 60th. His goal was initially waived off for offside but a video review overruled the referee’s decision. Correa was substituted by that point so his Atletico teammates rushed into the dugout to celebrate with him.
Getafe’s first point of 2023 ended a run of four consecutive league losses for Quique Sánchez Flores’ team.
Fourth-placed Atletico was left four points clear of Villarreal and Real Betis, which also stumbled.
SHOOTOUT IN SEVILLE
Celta Vigo midfielder Gabri Veiga scored twice to help win a high-tempo 4-3 thriller over Real Betis in Seville.
Aided by the sharp passing of Carles Pérez, Iago Aspas and Luca de la Torre, Celta got its most impressive win of an otherwise difficult season.
Betis’ Luiz Felipe was sent off for a brush with Aspas in the final minutes, setting off a brief scuffle between the teams.
Also, Espanyol came back to draw at home with Osasuna 1-1.
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