Cristiano Ronaldo struck twice as Real Madrid provisionally moved 13 points clear at the La Liga summit with a comeback win over Real Betis.
Betis went ahead early on through Jorge Molina but Madrid battled back to lead with goals from Gonzalo Higuain and Ronaldo.
The home side refused to give in and equalised through Jefferson Montero’s 55th-minute strike, but Ronaldo had the final word 17 minutes from time as Jose Mourinho’s men recorded their 11th successive league win to move further clear of Barcelona, who play Racing Santander tomorrow [Monday].
When Betis goalkeeper Fabricio Agosto was forced into his first save after just three minutes to turn behind Ronaldo’s long-range shot it looked set to be business as usual for in-form Madrid, but the hosts showed they had not read the script by taking a 10th-minute lead.
Ruben Castro did superbly to bring down a lofted through-ball on the edge of the area before laying off a pass into the path of Molina, who slammed a rising shot past Iker Casillas.
Madrid were back on level terms just 15 minutes later though when Mesut Ozil sent Higuain away and the Argentinian held off the challenge of Jose Antonio Dorado before slamming a shot inside Fabricio’s near post.
If Madrid thought things would be easier after that they were mistaken as Betis, who looked dangerous on the counter-attack, came close to retaking the lead in the 41st minute when Salva Sevilla’s dipping free-kick crashed back off the crossbar after Casillas had got the faintest of touches.
In what was an exciting encounter, Madrid then immediately raced down the other end and spurned a decent opening when Kaka’s pass pushed Higuain a bit too far wide and the striker could not get his left-footed shot on target.
The visitors had an even better chance 60 seconds later but Ronaldo, after being put in the clear by Marcelo, was denied by Fabricio.
The second half started with a change of referee with Eduardo Iturralde Gonzalez unable to continue due to injury, and one of the first things his replacement Gorka Sagues Oscoz had to do after the break was record Madrid’s second goal, with Ronaldo netting in the 52nd minute.
The Portugal international left Fabricio with no chance as he drilled in his 31st league goal of the season from 10 yards out.
Madrid’s lead lasted barely two minutes though as Betis equalised through Montero.
Visiting defender Alvaro Arbeloa failed to clear a corner and Montero lashed home a half-volley from the near the penalty spot to make it 2-2.
With Madrid rocking, Betis came close to making it 3-2 in the 58th minute and the visitors were indebted to a superb double block from Casillas to deny Castro and Montero.
It would be Madrid who would go on to take the points though, thanks to that man Ronaldo.
He was quickest to pounce on the loose ball after Fabricio had parried Sergio Ramos’ glancing header to slam in a left-footed volley.
Ronaldo twice went close to notching his seventh league hat-trick of the season but saw one effort go just wide and the other parried by Fabricio, while Betis had loud claims for a last-minute penalty for handball turned down as Madrid moved ever closer to their first Primera Division title since 2008.