MADRID - Jose Callejon grabbed a late winner for Real Madrid as Jose Mourinho's men fought back from a goal down to defeat Mallorca 2-1 and go eight points clear of bitter rivals Barcelona at the top of La Liga on Saturday.
Callejon then struck what could prove to be a crucial winner in the 82nd minute of a game where Real were second best in the first half. "They defended well with no errors and knew how we would attack them, they played really well, especially in the first-half," said Mourinho.
"We had to take risks in the second half to win. I took Marcelo off because I wanted to go with three at the back. I put Fabio Coentrao with Pepe and Sergio Ramos, bacause they are quick enough to play in a three-man defence." Callejon added: "The most key thing is the teamwork that keeps us at the top, the three points are much more important than my goal."
Mallorca were well-organised at the start, content to relinquish possession to Madrid, and which allowed the island side to counter-attack with pace. The quick Victor Casadesus had the first opportunity when he narrowly failed to steer the ball home after good work from Hemed on the right on nine minutes.
Next it was Hemed's turn to worry the Madrid goal after being put clear by Casadesus. The breakthrough came for the home side on 38 minutes when Chori Castro created the space to whip in a cross at pace for Hemed to stoop in front of the Madrid defence and glance a header past goalkeeper Iker Casillas.
Sergio Ramos replied with the leaders' first real chance on the stroke of half-time with a header that crashed against the post and there was still time for Lass Diarra to try from distance before the break. Castro and Hemed linked up again on 53 minutes when the Israeli sent another header just wide from a corner.
Mourinho, having already sent on Higuain at half-time, introduced Kaka and Fabio Coentrao just before the hour mark in a bid to fire his team into action. Casillas then had to turn a Michael Pereira shot past the post. Dudu Aouate remained untroubled in the Mallorca goal until the 72nd minute when Higuain turned in the equaliser with the help of a deflection after a clever through ball from Mesut Ozil.
Two minutes later and Cristiano Ronaldo slammed a shot against the crossbar as Madrid were suddenly in control. Ramos had a goal ruled out for a marginal offside decision on 76 minutes and it looked like Mallorca had done enough for a point when Aouate came off his line to block at the feet of Higuain on 84 minutes.
However, the ball fell to Callejon who thumped the ball past the stranded keeper to give Madrid a vital win and boost their hopes of winning back the title that Barcelona have held for the last three seasons. Valencia remain third, 12 points behind Madrid, despite a 1-0 home defeat to Real Sociedad for whom French winger Antoine Griezmann got the winner on 55 minutes.
Sixth-placed Sevilla were booed off by their own fans after a 0-0 draw with Espanyol, who held Barcelona 1-1 last weekend, dealt another blow to their Champions League hopes.
Bottom club Zaragoza missed a great opportunity to make up ground when they could only draw 1-1 at home to Getafe. They had Mauricio Lanzaro to thank for a first-half lead after the Italian full-back powerfully headed home a corner on 38 minutes.
However Zaragoza central defender Javier Paredes was unfortunate when a Pedro Leon corner struck him and landed over the line to give Getafe a share of the points with 12 minutes remaining. The draw leaves Zaragoza stranded at the bottom, four points behind Sporting Gijon and five behind Villarreal.