Angel Correa and Alvaro Morata scored second-half goals as Atletico Madrid ended a run of five successive away draws in LaLiga, recording a hard-fought 2-1 victory at Real Betis.
Diego Simeone's decision to send on Correa for the ineffectual Thomas Lemar early in the second half reaped a rapid return, the forward finding the net just 97 seconds after his introduction off the bench.
After blocking a clearance from the dithering Alex Moreno, the Argentina international reacted quickly to seize on the loose ball and then round goalkeeper Joel Robles, allowing him to convert into an unguarded net.
Correa's classy finish put his side on course for a first triumph on the road for Atletico since a 2-0 result against Real Mallorca way back on September 25.
He also had a hand in its second, too, as it was his low cross that allowed Morata, who had a header correctly ruled out for offside during the first half at Benito Villamarin, to turn the ball in at the front post.
Betis did get a consolation in added time, Marc Bartra converting from inside the penalty area with the aid of a deflection, the goal given after a lengthy VAR consultation that infuriated an already raucous home crowd.
Both teams had hit the woodwork in the first half, a combination of Robles and a post denying a rising drive from Morata after the forward had been put clean through on goal by Joao Felix.
At the other end, Atletico needed the help of the crossbar before the break to keep out a header from Betis defender Zouhair Feddal, with the visitor second best before Correa's intervention on proceedings.
What does it mean? Atletico clinging on in title race
It may not even be the halfway stage of the season, but it is clear Atletico can ill-afford to lose any more ground in the title race if it is to remain a serious contender.
The gap to the summit still sits at a rather sizeable seven points, but at least back-to-back wins prior to the mid-season break have Simeone's squad sitting in the top four.
Angel makes festive impact
Not even Simeone can have expected his first change to leave such a mark on the contest.
Correa immediately provided some much-needed energy in attack, with his determination to close down Moreno leading to the crucial opener.
Lemar the fall guy again
The Frenchman's withdrawal was hardly a surprise; he has completed 90 minutes just once in LaLiga in this campaign.
Lemar had just 15 total touches and failed to create a chance or have a shot during his time on the pitch.
Atletico will be at home to Levante on January 4 when the league season resumes early in 2020, while Betis is on the road to Deportivo Alaves the following day.
- NBA roundup: Cavs’ Max Strus hits half-court winner at buzzer
- Uday Saharan wins Emerging Hero award at the Sportstar ‘Focus Punjab’ Conclave
- WPL 2024: Royal Challengers Bangalore looks to maintain win-streak as it faces Delhi Capitals
- Brigadier Harcharan Singh honoured with Sportstar Hero Unsung Champion award at ‘Focus Punjab’ Sports Conclave
- Punjab’s sports policy unparalleled in the country, says Sports Minister Gurmeet Singh Meet Hayer