(CNN) -- Cristiano Ronaldo was to the fore as Real Madrid came from behind to defeat Sporting Gijon 3-1 on Saturday night and move three points clear of Barcelona at the top of Spain's La Liga.
Former Real reserve player David Barral shocked the home fans with the opening goal eight minutes after halftime when he beat the offside trap and fired into the roof of the net past goalkeeper Iker Casillas.
But the expensively assembled Madrid team responded immediately, with Rafael Van Der Vaart making up for an earlier missed header as he pounced after Gijon keeper Juan Pablo failed to deal with Ronaldo's swerving free-kick.
Pablo was booked after protesting that the Dutch midfielder had appeared to use his hand to control the ball before smashing in the rebound.
Real took the lead in the 57th minute with another opportunist goal as midfielder Xavi Alonso netted his second of the season as he nodded in at the far post after Ronaldo rose highest to power a header which was destined to go well wide of Pablo's goal.
Gonzalo Higuain, who scored a hat-trick against Valladolid last weekend, wrapped up the victory 11 minutes later when he cut in from the right and surged towards the Gijon penalty area before slotting in a low left-foot effort.
It was the Argentina forward's 20th league goal this season, and sealed Real's 14th win from 14 at the Santiago Bernabeu.
Coach Manuel Pellegrini, who received a vote of confidence from Real's directors after the disappointing last-16 exit from the Champions League two weeks ago, was not happy with the way his team played.
"We did not have a good first half, we did not have the creativity to break through Sporting's defense," the Chilean said.
"But what's important is that after the goal we conceded we knew how to react and we improved a lot in the second half. The team won and that's the most important thing."
Barcelona, who face English club Arsenal in the quarterfinals of Europe's premier club competition, can draw level on 68 points with victory at Real Zaragoza on Sunday.
Sevilla's hopes of qualifying for next season's Champions League were dented by a 2-0 defeat at Barcelona's city rivals Espanyol in Saturday's late match.
Striker Dani Osvaldo headed an eighth-minute opener and then doubled the lead on the breakaway after an hour to leave Sevilla four points behind third-placed Valencia, who host Almeria on Sunday.
Sevilla, knocked out of the Champions League by CSKA Moscow in midweek, will lose fourth spot if Mallorca draw with Atletico Madrid on Sunday.
Athletic Bilbao moved to within a point of Mallorca after drawing 2-2 with Getafe on Saturday, with both teams reduced to 10 men.
Pablo Orbaiz put the Basques ahead but was sent off seven minutes before halftime, with Getafe having earlier drawn level through Manu (32).
Fernando Llorente restored the hosts' lead from the penalty spot with 10 minutes left after Miguel Torres received a second booking, but Pedro Leon leveled on 86.
Bilbao edged ahead of Deportivo La Coruna on goal difference after the Galicians suffered a shock 2-0 defeat at home to relegation-threatened Valladolid.
Basement club Xerez won 2-1 at home to second-bottom Tenerife to leave the islanders level with Valladolid on 23 points.