MADRID (AFP) - Real Madrid recorded their fourth consecutive home league victory with a 2-0 win over Rayo Vallecano on Sunday despite playing for 72 minutes with 10 men.
Alvaro Morata and Sergio Ramos got the goals in the opening 12 minutes but Ramos' night took a turn for the worse just six minutes later when he saw two harsh yellow cards in quick succession.
Despite their numerical advantage though Rayo failed to create too many clear-cut chances and their best effort was comically blocked by their own player as Leo Baptistao failed to evade Piti's driven shot towards goal.
Before the game much had been made of the fact that Rayo's Piti and Leo had scored more league goals than Madrid's two leading strikers Gonzalo Higuain and Karim Benzema.
With Higuain suspended, Jose Mourinho choose to start Morata and leave Benzema on the bench.
Three minutes in and the Portuguese was vindicated as Mesut Ozil's cut-back was turned in by the 20-year-old from close range.
Kaka then fired wide with a good opening but Rayo should also have been level inside seven minutes as Chori Dominguez was played in by Roberto Trashorras after Pepe had given the ball away and the Argentine's shot whistled just past Diego Lopez's far post.
Everything seemed to be going to plan for the hosts five minutes later though as Ramos outmuscled his marker to head home Ozil's free-kick.
However, Ramos then saw two yellow cards in barely 30 seconds as he first brought down Trashorras and then was harshly dismissed when a cross from the left struck his trailing arm.
Rayo almost took advantage straight away as Alejandro Galvez headed just over from the resulting free-kick.
Madrid were soon back on the attack and Cristiano Ronaldo uncharacteristically missed a great chance to make it three as he latched onto another fine Ozil through ball but just left himself too tight an angle after rounding Ruben in the Rayo goal and could only find the side-netting.
Rayo had plenty of possession as they tried to make their man advantage count but the best chance they carved out before the break fell to Trashorras and he blasted over from the edge of the area.
Jordi Figueras also fired over from a corner at the start of the second period but the visitors were still struggling to make their possession count and it was Madrid who were next to threaten as Kaka pulled a shot wide and Sami Khedira also saw an effort comfortably held by Ruben.
Lass Bangoura fired into the side-netting as Rayo continued to probe, but their evening in front of goal was summed up when Piti's goalbound effort was blocked by his own man Leo.
The home fans were then incensed when Lass wasn't shown a second yellow card for handling in a similar manner to Ramos and referee Jose Luis Paradas Romero's decision not to sent the Guinean off nearly became even more controversial as his cross was almost converted by Leo at the back post with 12 minutes remaining.
Try as they might though Rayo couldn't find a way through as Real held on to cut the gap on Atletico Madrid in second to four points with Barcelona a further 12 clear at the top of the table.
Atletico Madrid moved back to within 12 points of Barcelona a comfortable 3-0 win over Valladolid.
Radamel Falcao got the visitors off to the perfect start with his 20th league goal of the season as he pounced from a yard after Dani Hernandez had made a fine save to deny Diego Godin.
Diego Costa then made it 2-0 seven minutes into the second-half as he smashed home Koke's knockdown and Cristian Rodriguez rounded off a first away win in six league games for Diego Simeone's men in stoppage time.