Antoine Griezmann's late header earned Atletico Madrid a big three points in a laborious 1-0 win at struggling Granada ahead of a crucial run of fixtures for their top four hopes in LaLiga.
Atleti have been out of the running for the title for some time and a defeat to Barcelona coupled with a draw against Deportivo La Coruna saw Diego Simeone's men become embroiled in a battle just to qualify for the Champions League via their standing in LaLiga, although they did get back to winning ways against Valencia last time out.
Real Sociedad were just a point behind Atleti before the clash at Estadio Nuevo Los Carmenes, though, and the visitors' prospects of securing back-to-back wins did not look good for long periods of a lacklustre contest.
However, as has so often been the case it was France forward Griezmann that came to the fore when he nodded in Koke's centre in the 84th minute to extend Atleti's gap over Sociedad, who play Athletic Bilbao on Sunday, to four points and leave Granada firmly in the bottom three.
Granada will ponder what may have been if Adrian Ramos had converted a decent second-half chance, but goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa was called into action more and more towards the end of the game and the hosts' misery was compounded by a late red card for Mubarak Wakaso.
It may turn out to be a crucial victory for Atleti, who host third-place Sevilla next week, while next month Sociedad travel to the Vicente Calderon and Simeone's side visit the Santiago Bernabeu for the derby with Real Madrid.
Atleti started brightly enough and Yannick Carrasco directed an early header narrowly wide from Filipe Luis' measured cross, but the first effort on target came at the other end as Ramos nodded straight at Jan Oblak.
Chances were few and far between in a combative first half, though, with Granada relishing the midfield battle and enjoying the better of the possession.
Griezmann in particular had struggled to involve himself in play for the visitors and flicked wide when Carrasco picked him out from a free-kick shortly before the break.
An Atleti flurry followed the restart, with Ochoa denying Carrasco's deflected drive after the forward had profited on a poor punch.
But Granada regrouped and Ramos might have done better as he tamely turned Uche Agbo's square pass into the arms of Oblak from in front of goal.
With the game opening up, an Atleti counter created space for Griezmann to drill just past the right-hand post, before Carrasco jinked through to shoot wide on the other side.
Griezmann then nodded down for Koke to acrobatically force a smart stop from Ochoa, while Hector blazed over the top from a promising position for the hosts.
Ochoa saved again as Angel Correa shot straight at him, then denied Carrasco as Atleti belatedly built momentum, with the goal finally arriving for Griezmann.
Koke received a short corner and delivered towards the back post where Griezmann was waiting to angle a header back across Ochoa into the corner to end Granada's resistance.
And the home side ended the game with 10 men as Wakaso, previously so impressive, lunged in on Griezmann in stoppage time to earn a second yellow card.