Football: Ronaldo on target as Madrid end Celta run

Cristiano Ronaldo (above) and Danilo struck within the first 23 minutes for Madrid.
Cristiano Ronaldo (above) and Danilo struck within the first 23 minutes for Madrid.AFP

MADRID (AFP) - Real Madrid inflicted Celta Vigo's first defeat of the season to move three points clear at the top of La Liga thanks to a 3-1 win at Balaidos on Saturday.

Cristiano Ronaldo and Danilo struck within the first 23 minutes for Madrid, who were also grateful to another spectacular goalkeeping display from Keylor Navas to keep Celta at bay.

Celta were reduced to 10 men just 12 minutes into the second-half when Gustavo Cabral was dismissed for a second bookable offence, but they still pushed Madrid all the way as Nolito set up a grandstand finish five minutes from time when he fired into the top corner.

However, Marcelo rounded off the scoring with the final kick of the game.

Victory takes Madrid three points clear of Celta and Barcelona, who entertain Eibar on Sunday.

"We had a lot of chances to finish the game before," said Madrid boss Rafael Benitez.

"In the end we had to suffer because we needed the third goal, but we have to take the positives which is to come to such a difficult place after playing PSG on Wednesday and get a great result."

Meanwhile, Nolito admitted that Navas had just been too good.

"We have to congratulate him because he stopped three of four clear goals which I don't know how he saved," he told Canal Plus.

Both sides' unbeaten record this season was on the line, but despite their exertions against Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League in midweek and a host of injuries to key players, it was Madrid who started the brighter.

That early dominance was rewarded on eight minutes when Lucas Vazquez's cut-back trickled through to Ronaldo who smashed home his 12th goal in as many games this season.

Celta had thrashed Barcelona 4-1 last month and going behind appeared to shock the Galicians back into their early season form as Fabian Orellana forced Navas into his first and arguably best save of the afternoon as he flew to his right to turn the Chilean's volley behind.

The hosts' attacking intent worked against them midway through the half, though, as Jese Rodriguez picked out Danilo in acres of space on the counter-attack and the Brazilian took his time before dispatching his first goal for the club beyond Sergio Alvarez.

Navas then took centre stage at the other end of the field as he made stunning saves from Iago Aspas and Pablo Hernandez just before the break to continue his amazing start to the season.

Celta started on the front foot after the break too as Orellana curled just wide from the edge of the area.

However, any hope of a comeback from the hosts was extinguished when Cabral saw a stupid second yellow card for protesting towards referee Clos Gomez.

Madrid should have taken advantage of the extra man when Ronaldo fired straight at Alvarez before the Celta 'keeper did brilliantly to turn Isco's effort onto the bar.

Even when Celta did eventually beat Navas, Marcelo was on hand to clear Nolito's goalbound effort off the line.

Yet, Nolito brought the game to life once more with a stunning effort into the top corner for his seventh goal of the season five minutes from time.

And Celta should have been level seconds later when substitute John Guidetti shot wide when unmarked just six yards out.

Instead, it was Marcelo who scored for the second consecutive league game when he slotted home at the near post to make it 3-1.