LUKA Modric’s stunning late strike gave Real Madrid a scarcely deserved first away win under Zinedine Zidane at second-bottom Granada.
The Croatian midfielder rifled home his first league goal of the season from 25 yards with five minutes left to get a disappointing Madrid side out of jail.
Substitute Youssef El-Arabi slotted home an equaliser for the hosts just before the hour mark after Karim Benzema opened the scoring from eight yards in the first half.
Despite the late winner, third-placed Real trail city rivals Atletico Madrid by one point and leaders Barcelona, who have a game in hand, by four points.
Madrid had scored 17 goals in their previous four matches under Zidane – who replaced the sacked Rafael Benitez last month – but were largely underwhelming at Los Carmenes.
Granada remain 19th – two points adrift of safety – after a sixth defeat in seven games but will be encouraged by their spirited display having more than matched the title challengers for long periods.
The hosts – perhaps buoyed by bottom-club Levante’s positive performance in their 2-0 home defeat by Barca earlier in the day – put an unchanged Madrid side on the back foot early on.
Adalberto Penaranda – who joined Watford on deadline day from Udinese but was loaned back to Granada – had the ball in the net after 10 minutes but was ruled offside as he was ahead of the second line of defence once keeper Keylor Navas had raced out of his area to clear.
Cristiano Ronaldo – without a La Liga away goal in open play since October – went close when racing on to James Rodriguez’s cross-field pass but dragged his shot wide of the far post.
And Real opened up the Granada defence again to break the deadlock on the half-hour mark as Benzema swept home his 19th league goal of the season from Dani Carvajal’s cutback after the right-back was afforded acres of space to run in to.
It was tough on the Andalusian outfit, who boast the second-worst defence in the division but were applauded off by their own fans at half-time having restricted the visitors to limited chances and – more importantly – few goals.
Jose Ramon Sandoval’s team matched their bright start to the first half following the break as David Barral’s downward header was kept out by the reflexes of Navas.
They were rewarded when El-Arabi – within 90 seconds of replacing Barral – stroked home beyond Navas despite Carvajal’s best efforts to clear off the line.
Modric, meanwhile, felt that referee Jesus Gil Manzano had impeded him in the build-up which led to Real losing possession but his complaints fell on deaf ears.
El-Arabi thought he had scored again when he flicked home from close range before the linesman’s flag was raised before Isaac Success had a penalty appeal turned down after Navas blocked his route to goal with a fine intervention.
The impressive hosts pushed for a winner as much as Madrid – who sent on Jese Rodriguez and Mateo Kovacic from the bench yet struggled throughout to carve clear-cut chances.
However, a fierce Modric effort from range was superbly repelled by Andres Fernandez, who also denied Benzema one-on-one although the Frenchman should have scored when latching on to a delightful Modric through-ball.
Real were indebted to man of the match Modric for firing a sublime effort into the corner past Fernandez just when it seemed that they had to settle for a point.
Granada asked questions of the Madrid defence in the closing stages but could not find a leveller as a relieved Zidane earned a first win on the road at the fourth attempt.
The three points keep alive Madrid’s title hopes, which have been fading in recent weeks.
Substitutes: El-Arabi (on for Barral 58′), Krhin (on for Fran Rico 77′) and Doucoure (on for Penaranda 81′).
Not used: Jesus Fernandez (GK), Biraghi, Babin, Cuenca.
Booked: Miguel Lopes (19′), Ruben Perez (32′), El-Arabi (61′)
Goals: El-Arabi (60′)
Substitutes: Jese (on for Rodriguez 61′), Kovacic (on for Isco 78′) and Nacho (on for Carvajal 86′).
Not used: Casilla (GK), Arbeloa, Casemiro, Vazquez.
Booked: Sergio Ramos (62′), Carvajal (83′)
Goals: Benzema (30′), Modric (85′)
Referee: Jesus Gil Manzano (Spain) – 8/10