(AFP) - Gary Neville remains without a win in La Liga as Valencia boss as Villarreal moved up to fourth thanks to captain Bruno Soriano's spectacular free kick in a 1-0 win on Thursday.
Bruno found the top corner from the edge of the box midway through the second half to allow Villarreal to edge two points ahead of Celta Vigo in the battle for the final Champions League place.
However, Valencia's ambitions of a top-four finish now look forlorn as they lie 11 points behind their local rivals in 10th.
"We are a significant distance behind, but I am only concentrating on the next match," said Neville.
"Losing today makes everything more complicated, but we have to focus on getting the best out of the players."
Valencia had only managed to draw Neville's opening two league games in charge against Eibar and Getafe before the 10-day winter break.
And the former Manchester United defender took a more defensive approach in a bid to at least preserve his unbeaten record with a five-man defence as Villarreal dominated the first 45 minutes.
Roberto Soldado had the best chance to open the scoring against his old side, but the former Tottenham Hotspur striker failed to connect with Jonathan dos Santos's inviting cross.
Valencia had started the second half much more positively as Alphonse Areola was forced into saves from Andre Gomes and Dani Parejo, whilst Paco Alcacer blasted over a great chance from close range.
However, the visitors were caught with a sucker punch when Soldado was brought down on the edge of the box and Bruno curled the ball perfectly into the top corner for his fourth goal of the season.
Alcacer wasted another big opportunity when he volleyed over shortly afterwards, but Valencia created little in their search for an equaliser and now face the daunting task of hosting Real Madrid on Sunday.