Real Madrid had Gonzalo Higuain's 49th-minute winner to thank for a 1-0 win over Racing Santander on Saturday, but the Spanish giants' seventh successive league win did little to appease their fans. Argentinian Higuain netted the decisive goal shortly after the restart and Real were made to sweat for the remainder as they awaited the final whistle at the Santiago Bernabeu.
The reigning champions held on to pull within nine points of runaway leaders Barcelona, but another 1-0 win - an emerging habit under new coach Juande Ramos - could not stop the jeers, or fans heading for the exits early. The grumbling is likely to grow louder in Madrid if a tenth successive league win for Barcelona, who host Sporting Gijon today, restores their advantage over Real to 12 points.
"It was like a lot of our recent matches," confessed Ramos. "We won, which is great, although we are finding it difficult to get that second goal. However, one big positive is the team kept a clean sheet and we got the three points."
Iker Casillas made history with making his 454th appearance, to equal Paco Buya's club record in the Real goal and he had little to do as Real controlled proceedings. It was a heated match and tempers flared close to half-time when Racing striker Jonathan Perreira was fouled three times and the referee failed to take any action against Real.
Pepe cynically pushed Perreira to the floor before Gabriel Heinze and Fabio Cannavaro hacked the grounded striker. The referee waved play on and livid Racing players encircled Heinze, while words were also exchanged as both sets of players trudged off at half-time.
Racing then conceded four minutes into the second half, with Higuain cutting inside before finishing with aplomb. The Argentinian should have scored again shortly afterwards, but keeper Antonio Martinez made the save with an oustretched foot.
Real's new French signing Julien Faubert, on loan from West Ham United, made his debut just after the hour mark, coming on for Arjen Robben who seemed less than happy about the decision. "He [Robben] wasn't in the right physical condition to play the 90 minutes," explained Ramos. "When you are tired, the risk of injury increases and we are not willing to take those risks."
Racing went close to equalising and Cannavaro had to clear off the line to prevent an own goal from Pepe. Nicola Zigic headed over a great chance for Racing and angry Real fans flocked out of the turnstiles with several minutes remaining.
"Real are not the same team as three months ago when they needed to score three goals to win," said Racing coach Juan Ramon Muniz. "They take their chances and, when they need to close the game off, they do."
The Bernabeu was supposed to be the venue for Spain's friendly with England this Wednesday, but the game was switched after The Football Association made clear its refusal to play the match in Madrid, due to racist insults that the home crowd had aimed at several England players during a friendly in 2004.
The match will now take place in Seville and the Sanchez Pizjuan came under the spotlight yesterday when Sevilla hosted Real Betis in the Seville derby. Sevilla have had the edge in recent years and were looking to pile more misery on a Betis side that have won once in their last nine matches. Despite Sevilla's interests, Real Betis emerged with the 2-1 victory.