Real Madrid came from a goal down to cut Barcelona’s lead at the top to 12 points with a hard-fought 3-1 home victory over basement boys Osasuna.
In contrast to Barcelona’s dazzling 5-0 thrashing of Deportivo La Coruna on Saturday,Real were fortunate to survive two strong penalty claims as they laboured to a win on Sunday that lifts them into second above Sevilla on goal difference.
Osasuna went ahead through Javad Nekounam’s 19th-minute header but gifted Real an equaliser early in the second half with goalkeeper Roberto allowing Sergio Ramos’s tame shot to creep in.
Argentine Gonzalo Higuain struck his 12th goal of the season just after the hour mark to turn the game in Real’s favour and Arjen Robben added a third they scarcely deserved.
Preparations for the match had been far from perfect with president Ramon Calderon resigning on Friday to create more unstability at the club who only axed coach Bernd Schuster before Christmas.
Real almost scored after 24 seconds with Higuain showing a great turn of pace to get into the penalty area only to have his shot saved.
Osasuna had almost beaten Barcelona last weekend – conceding two late goals to lose 3-2 – and took a 19th minute lead on Sunday when Jaroslav Plasil got down the byline and whipped in a great cross for Nekounam to head home.
It was the first goal Real had conceded since the 2-0 defeat to Barcelona in mid-December.
Ramos thought he had equalised in the 37th minute but the goal was ruled out for offside.
After the break the Spanish international got his goal with his speculative shot fumbled by keeper Roberto who allowed the ball to loop over his body.
Robben then set up Higuain for a simple tap-in and scored himself in the dying seconds.
Real had been let off the hook six minutes from time when Pepe appeared to foul Juanfran in the penalty area.
The referee waved away the appeals and Juanfran,already booked,was sent off for diving.
Villarreal ended a miserable run with a 2-0 triumph over Real Mallorca to ascend to fifth,five points behind Real and Sevilla.
The club had taken one point from their last 12 in the league before the Mallorca match but a Joan Capdevila strike and a Giuseppe Rossi penalty got them back on the winning trail.
Later on Sunday,Valencia,16 points behind Barcelona,travel to an improving Athletic Bilbao side looking to build on their Kings Cup win over Racing Santander in midweek.
Atletico Madrid,lying four points off the Champions League places,are at Almeria and the match has a Mexican flavour as compatriots Javier Aguirre and Hugo Sanchez put their friendship aside for 90 minutes.
“He (Hugo Sanchez) has been a friend of mine for a long time,almost 30 years,” said Atletico coach Aguirre. “I wish him the best and I know that he’ll manage a big club one day,with all due respect to Almeria.”