Madrid: Substitute Jese fired home a late winner to earn Real Madrid a 3-2 victory over battling Valencia that keeps them within five points of the Primera Division pacesetters.
Jese found a gap between Valencia goalkeeper Vicente Guaita and his near post with eight minutes left to give Real a win in a match which saw the manager-less home side twice fight back from a goal down.
Angel Di Maria (28) and Cristiano Ronaldo (40) had put the visitors ahead but Valencia had levelled both times through headers from Pablo Piatti (34) and Jeremy Mathieu (62).
The hosts, who were being led by youth-team coach Nico Estevez following Monday’s departure of Miroslav Djukic, could not find a third equaliser following Jese’s goal though as Madrid kept the pressure up on top two Barcelona and Atletico Madrid.
Barcelona top the table on 46 points, level with Atletico Madrid, who beat Levante on Saturday, but with a healthier goal record. Madrid are third on 41 points.
“We dropped our level at times during the game but we need to concentrate on continuing to pick up points and starting the fight again in the New Year,” said Real defender Sergio Ramos.
“There are areas that we need to work on which we will do. Barcelona and Atletico are making it difficult at the top but we will keep going.”
Madrid have enjoyed tremendous success in this fixture in recent years, winning on their previous four league visits to Valencia, while in the last six years have recorded victories by 5-1, 6-3 and 5-0 here.
They had also claimed a couple of 3-2 wins at the Mestalla in that time, so goals were always on the cards — and so it proved.
Valencia defended well and it needed a moment of quality from Di Maria to break the deadlock just before the half-hour mark with a whipped shot which nestled in the corner.
Real dropped two points against Osasuna last weekend as they struggled to deal with crosses and they were again undone by headers, the first from Pablo Piatti to equalise.
Cristiano Ronaldo restored Real’s advantage before the break but Jeremy Mathieu headed home a corner just after the hour mark.
Valencia looked capable of getting the winner until Jese scored eight minutes from time.
Di Maria netted the opener with a superb effort just before the half-hour, the Argentina winger bringing down a cross-field pass from Marcelo before skipping in between two defenders as he made his way into the area and then curling a shot just inside the far post.
Valencia were behind for just six minutes though before Piatti drew them level when he got in the end of Juan Bernat's cross to glance home a header from six yards out.
Madrid refused to be deflated however, and Di Maria drew a fine save out of Guaita soon after before Ronaldo restored the club's lead when he headed home the winger's free-kick unchallenged from near the penalty spot. (Agencies)