MADRID (AFP) - Gareth Bale's thunderous header 10 minutes from time moved an under-strength Real Madrid to the top of La Liga with a hard-fought 1-0 win at Real Sociedad on Saturday.
In the absence of the injured Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema, Bale stood out with a brilliant individual display capped by the winner to register Madrid's 10th straight La Liga win.
Victory moves Real two points clear of Barcelona and Atletico Madrid, who are in action against Real Betis and Rayo Vallecano respectively later on Saturday.
"I am happy for him because he has had problems this season with injury, but when is fit you notice," Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane said of Bale. "We could have scored earlier in the first-half, but we had to work until the end against a difficult side. I am happy with the performance and to get three points once again."
As well as the absent Ronaldo and Benzema, Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane rested Marcelo, Dani Carvajal and Toni Kroos with one eye on the return leg of their Champions League semi-final against Manchester City on Wednesday.
Without the other two members of Madrid's star 'BBC' frontline, Bale was charged with finding the goals and the Welshman did everything but score in a fine first-half display.
Bale pulled his first effort wide on his weaker right foot before James Rodriguez wasted the chance to open the scoring on a rare start in recent months as Geronimo Rulli turned away the Colombian's effort at his near post.
Madrid then began to show their power from set-pieces as captain Sergio Ramos and Bale saw headers fly just wide from corners before another powerful Bale header from Rodriguez's inch-perfect cross also fell just the wrong side of the post as Madrid completely dominated the hosts before the break.
The visitors continued to press after the break, but Rulli looked set to end their title hopes as the Argentine made brilliant save to deny Bale from another fine Rodriguez cross.
Jese Rodriguez replaced teenage striker Borja Mayoral 20 minutes from time, but also found Rulli on top form with two fierce efforts on target.
Yet, a week after leading Real back from a two-goal deficit at Rayo Vallecano, Bale made the difference again when he got across his marker to bullet home a header from Lucas Vazquez's cross.
Sociedad had barely offered any threat on goal during the 90 minutes, but nearly snatched an equaliser in stoppage time as David Zurutuza headed a free-kick towards goal in stoppage time only to see Keylor Navas get down well to make his only significant save of the game.