A spectacular trademark free kick from David Beckham and a late strike from defender Michel Salgado enabled Real Madrid to scramble a nervous 2-1 win over basement side Numancia in the Spanish Primera Liga on Sunday.
The victory, which left Real seven points behind leaders Barcelona, was secured as the England captain curled a 25-metre shot over the wall into the far corner in the second half and Salgado slotted home seven minutes from time to put Real 2-0 up.
But their success also owed much to goalkeeper Iker Casillas who saved a first half penalty and made another great save to prevent Numancia from grabbing a late equaliser.
The win was vital for Real after Barcelona had produced a devastating second-half display to power their way to a 4-0 win over Sevilla on Saturday and inflict a first home defeat of the season on the Andalucians.
Third-placed Valencia fought back from two goals down to earn a 2-2 draw at home to Athletic Bilbao in a pulsating match at the Mestalla thanks to late headers from strikers Mista and Marco Di Vaio.
But the result means the champions now trail Real Madrid by seven points in the standings.
Espanyol took advantage of Sevilla's defeat to reclaim fourth spot, two points behind Valencia, despite being held to a 2-2 draw at home to Real Betis.
The performance of the day came from Villarreal, who notched up their fourth win in a row with the 4-0 trouncing of out-of-sorts Real Sociedad.
Uruguayan striker Diego Forlan scored two second-half goals to take his tally for the season to 13.
The former Manchester United player broke the deadlock in the 58th minute when he cracked the ball in from 10 metres.
He then provided the pass for Juan Roman Riquelme to make it 2-0 before helping himself to a second eight minutes from time.
Former AC Milan and Atletico Madrid forward Jose Mari completed the rout with a virtuoso effort in stoppage time, inflicting a fifth successive defeat on the Basque side.
The result pushed Villareal up to sixth in the table, a point behind Sevilla and Espanyol.
Basement side Numancia gave a nervous-looking Real several early scares at Los Pajaritos and would have taken the lead had it not been for some outstanding keeping from Casillas.
The Spanish international made a great fingertip save to turn a stinging shot from Luis Tevenet round the post after midfielder Juanlu had jinked his way through the Madrid defence.
He saved the day once more before the break with another fine stop to smother a Tevenet spot kick after centre-back Ivan Helguera had conceded a penalty for climbing over Miguel Perez as he tried to head the ball clear in the area.
Real finally began to find their rhythm after the break but were still unable to unlock the well-organised Numancia defence until Beckham scored with his sweetly struck free kick.
Salgado added a second when he burst into the area to latch onto a classy through ball from striker Michael Owen and slot past goalkeeper Antonio Nunez.
But Real were made to sweat once more when striker Miguel Lopez scored with a glancing header three minutes from time and Casillas had to tip the ball over the bar in the final minute to stop Numancia grabbing a late equaliser.