Real Madrid remain top of La Liga after Gonzalo Higuain scored the only goal of a hard-fought battle filled with tension against Sporting Gijon on Sunday.
With Barcelona provisionally overtaking them at the top of the table on Saturday after a 3-1 win over Villarreal, the onus was on Real Madrid to respond against Sporting and the atmosphere had already been stoked up after Sporting coach Manolo Preciado reacted angrily to quotes from his Real counterpart Jose Mourinho suggesting that his side had not put up a fight when they played Barcelona.
Higuain hit the post with a cross early on, but Real caused little danger in the first half, while Sporting were a threat on the break down the wings through Diego Castro and Nacho Novo.
After the break, it looked as though Real were not going to find a way through, but as the game wore on it began to open up for both sides.
Higuain should have scored with just goalkeeper Juan Pablo to beat and Sporting’s Gaston Sangoy saw a shot go a whisker past the post.
With nine minutes to go, substitute Karim Benzema headed a Sergio Ramos cross which was parried by the goalkeeper to Higuain, who tucked the ball home from close range.
In the final minute, Alberto Botia was given a straight red for a late challenge on Cristiano Ronaldo.
Mourinho was in the stands serving a touchline ban and his assistant Aitor Karanka claimed it was an important win in the championship race.
“In the first half, the general confusion on the pitch was contagious and it affected us, but to get three points in the end has been crucial. Sporting went out and were very motivated, their intention was to cause us a lot of problems and they did that,” Karanka said.
Valencia brought a run of four matches without a win to an end as they beat Getafe 2-0 and moved back into a Champions League place.
After a strong start to the season, Valencia had dropped down the table in recent weeks, but they got the perfect start against Getafe, scoring after just eight minutes when Juan Mata brought the ball down for Tino Costa to score.
Getafe had plenty of possession, but created few chances and midway through the second half defender David Navarro stabbed home the second after the goalkeeper parried a Costa header from point-blank range.
A last ditch Alvaro Negredo goal gave 10-man Sevilla a 2-1 win over bottom side Real Zaragoza.
They went ahead when Luis Fabiano slotted home from Frederic Kanoute’s defense-splitting pass. After the break Nicolas Bertolo headed home a Gabi Fernandez corner, but in the dying moments a defensive error by Jiri Jarosik allowed in substitute Negredo, who made no mistake in front of goal.
Espanyol have dropped down to sixth after they drew 0-0 with Racing Santander.
Hercules brought Real Sociedad’s good run to an end when they won 2-1 with goals from David Trezeguet and Royston Drenthe turning the game around, after Antoine Griezmann put the visitors into a deserved lead.
Deportivo La Coruna drew 0-0 with Real Mallorca, while Malaga came out on top 1-0 in the relegation battle with Levante.
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