Angel Correa came off the bench to grab the winner as Atletico Madrid maintained its Liga title challenge with a 1-0 victory over Malaga in a fiery contest that saw home coach Diego Simeone sent-off.

Atleti came into the weekend level on points with league leader Barcelona but struggled to break down its resolute visitor.

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However, Correa fired home a deflected effort five minutes after replacing Yannick Carrasco at Vicente Calderon, moving the host a point ahead of Real Madrid, which beat Rayo Vallecano earlier, at the summit. Barcelona hosts Sporting Gijon later on Saturday.

Simeone’s men had struggled to impose themselves on the fixture prior to going ahead and home frustrations showed when an extra ball appeared to be thrown from the Atleti bench onto the pitch in the closing stages of the first half, seemingly with the intention of checking the momentum of the advancing Ricardo Horta, who was darting down the left wing with the host outnumbered.

Simeone was sent to the stands after a stern talking to from referee Antonio Mateu, and Atleti could yet find itself in further trouble over the incident.

Duje Cop forced Jan Oblak into a diving save as Malaga had the first real sight of goal after 13 minutes, before Antoine Griezmann squandered a golden opportunity to put Atleti in front.

Koke delivered a low ball into the box from the left wing but, after Fernando Torres had dummied the cross, an unmarked Griezmann fired wide of the right-hand post from close range.

A Koke free-kick from distance then forced a backpedalling Guillermo Ochoa to tip over his crossbar, although Charles’ headed effort – comfortably saved by Oblak – served as a reminder of Malaga’s threat on the counter-attack.

Simeone had been forced into making changes to his back line thanks to Diego Godin’s hamstring injury, picked up in the midweek win over Athletic Bilbao, and the Argentine opted to partner Lucas Hernandez with the returning Jose Gimenez at centre-back.

The pair had relatively little to do as the half progressed, but for all of their possession, Atleti struggled to truly test Ochoa in the Malaga goal.

The Mexico international proved equal to a Carrasco strike from distance in the closing minutes of the first half - an effort that left the Belgian limping from the field, although he recovered to rejoin the action soon after.

With Simeone having taken his seat in the stand, Saul Niguez volleyed wide early in the second period, before Torres had a penalty appeal turned down after going down softly under the challenge of namesake Miguel.

Horta sent a free-kick whistling over the crossbar following a nasty collision between Gimenez and Ignacio Camacho, who was left with a bloodied ankle in the incident.

The breakthrough finally arrived in the 62nd minute, when Correa drifted in from the left and his shot from outside the box deflected off a defender and beyond the sprawling Ochoa.

The lively Correa saw another effort fizz wide of the target as Atleti pushed for a second, but the new league leaders had to settle for a one-goal margin, with Oblak preventing a late equaliser when Recio sent a fierce low drive goalwards.