La Liga: Nervy Real Madrid stagger to victory
Real Madrid earned coach Bernd Schuster some breathing space with a much-needed victory over lowly Recreativo Huelva tonight, but it was far from comfortable viewing for the home fans at the Bernabeu.
Madrid, having lost four of their previous eight competitive matches, had come into the match with the spotlight still firmly on Schuster despite this week's vote of confidence from sporting director Predrag Mijatovic.
But despite struggling to overcome second-bottom Recre, Madrid managed to claim the spoils thanks to Wesley Sneijder's deflected first-half piledriver.
Madrid's quest for a much-needed second goal was badly hit with 15 minutes to go when Gonzalo Higuain was stretchered off with a serious-looking injury.
There was an edgy atmosphere and plenty of empty seats at the Bernabeu at the start of the game, and an injury-hit Madrid side did little to lighten the mood with a nervous start.
They looked disjointed and unsure in the opening 10 minutes, and were extremely fortunate not to be a goal behind as well.
Javier Camunas had already seen one decent effort saved by Iker Casillas when he was presented with a glorious chance in the ninth minute after Sneijder had been robbed of possession.
But, with just Casillas to beat, the Madrid-born forward blazed Javi Guerrero's pass over the crossbar.
That scare at least seemed to wake Madrid out of their slumber, with Sneijder heading a Royston Drenthe cross just before Higuain contrived to miss an open goal.
The in-form Argentinian, who scored all four goals in Madrid's last home match against Malaga, looked to have done the hard work as he latched onto Sneijder's superb through-ball and skipped past Recre goalkeeper Asier Riesgo.
However, with the goal gaping, Higuain failed to get sufficient power on his shot and Nasief Morris got back to block the shot. To make matters worse, Higuain then reclaimed possession but clumsily ran the ball out of play before pulling it back to Sneijder, who slotted it home but then saw his celebrations cut short by the linesman's flag.
The fact the biggest cheer of the opening 35 minutes came with the news that Spain had won their doubles match in the Davis Cup tennis final in Argentina spoke volumes about the encounter.
But, despite their troubles, Madrid did manage to sneak a half-time lead. Not long after Raul had headed a good chance wide, Sneijder broke the deadlock with a 25-yard thunderbolt with his left foot.
The shot took a slight deflection of a Recre foot to help it loop over Riesgo, but nobody in the Madrid side will have cared a jot about that slice of luck.
Recre almost upset things though when Kanga Akale saw his low shot fly just wide of Casillas post just before the break.
Despite Madrid's lead, the atmosphere at the Bernabeu was still eerily quiet at the start of the second half, although Higuain almost gave them something to cheer with an effort that hit the side-netting.
Decent chances were few and far between though, and Madrid's cause was not helped when Higuain was stretchered off in the 75th minute.
Higuain had looked one of Madrid's chief goal threats, but the champions still managed to create a decent chance with him off the pitch.
Drenthe chipped a cross into the box and Guti's header looked goalbound only for Riesgo to superbly claw the ball out.
Madrid had a few scares at the other end as Recre pushed forward in search of an equaliser, but the hosts managed to hold out for what could be an important - if largely unimpressive - victory.
Villarreal started their unbeaten run with a 2-0 home win over Valladolid in April but were always second best at the Madrigal.
Jonathan Sesma scored twice and Pedro Leon made it 3-0 from a free kick just before the interval to earn Valladolid their first away points this season.
Sevilla and Valencia played out a 0-0 draw in the late game.