Madrid: Real Madrid produced a controversial comeback to beat winless Almeria 3-2 on Sunday and move provisionally top of La Liga.
Dani Carvajal rammed home the winner in the 99th minute to settle a wild and hugely entertaining clash at the Santiago Bernabeu where Madrid had trailed 2-0.
Bottom side Almeria took a two-goal lead in the first half through Largie Ramazani’s 38th minute strike and a screamer from Edgar Gonzalez.
However Madrid battled back to triumph as Jude Bellingham converted a penalty and Vinicius Junior used his upper arm to divert home an equaliser, before Carvajal’s last-gasp winner.
“After the break we came out to go for it, and with our fans and performance, we did it,” Carvajal told Real Madrid TV.
“We knew it was up to us, that if we put some speed and intensity into the game, we could do it, (I’m) very happy.”
Madrid won the Spanish Super Cup last Sunday by thrashing Barcelona in Saudi Arabia and then lost 4-2 against Atletico Madrid in the Copa del Rey in midweek.
“We had very little rest but you have to congratulate the team, they gave absolutely everything,” added Carvajal.
Almeria left furious after they had a goal disallowed, a penalty awarded against them and a goal against them ruled valid all by VAR decisions.
“(We leave) with the feeling we’ve been robbed,” complained Almeria midfielder Gonzalo Melero.
However Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti disagreed.
“I understand Almeria’s anger with the VAR decisions, but I think they were well judged,” Ancelotti told reporters.
“It was a strange game, the first half was very bad, I judged yesterday’s training session poorly, it was a tired team.”
Ramazani stunned Los Blancos inside the first minute after Nacho gave the ball away and pulled off a spectacular backflip celebration in delight.
Madrid struggled to find their rhythm and Almeria scored a brilliant second before half-time when Gonzalez lashed a half-volley into the top corner from long range.
Madrid could not conjure a shot on target in the first half and Ancelotti took action at the break.
The Italian coach made a triple change, hooking Nacho, Ferland Mendy and Rodrygo for Brahim Diaz, Fran Garcia and target man Joselu.
Ancelotti stayed on the pitch during half-time to give the substitutes instructions instead of heading to the dressing room to give a team-talk.
The latter was quickly involved, winning Madrid a penalty when his header was handled by Kaiky Fernandes, awarded after a VAR review.
La Liga’s top scorer Bellingham fired the spot kick down the middle for his 14th strike of the campaign.
Almeria complained there was a Madrid foul which went unpunished as the cross came in.
Former Madrid forward Sergio Arribas thought he had restored Almeria’s lead but the goal was ruled out for a foul in the build up again by VAR, before Vinicius levelled.
The Brazilian turned home Aurelien Tchouameni’s cross with his upper arm and although the goal was ruled out for handball at first, after yet another VAR review it was controversially allowed to stand.
England international Bellingham had a goal ruled out for offside and sent a superb overhead kick narrowly wide.
Almeria coach Gaizka Garitano was sent off during 11 minutes of stoppage time for complaints but worse was yet to come for him.
Bellingham knocked on a cross to the back post where Carvajal arrived to smash home and spark jubilant celebrations from a club accustomed to producing these kind of epic comebacks.
For Almeria it was an all too familiar story of disappointment.
Without a victory in 21 matches and 10 points from safety, the drop looms for Garitano’s side despite improvement since the coach arrived in October.
“This is a competition that should be fair for everyone and sometimes it’s hard to see that,” Almeria’s Edgar told reporters.
“The first (Madrid goal) is a clear foul, and I think the second is handball and I didn’t see the goal they ruled out for us ... it’s everything adding up, that it all went their way.”
Later Sunday champions Barcelona, fourth, visit Real Betis and Girona host Sevilla looking to reclaim the lead in La Liga — Madrid’s victory gives them a two-point lead on the Catalans.