Manuel PellegriniÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s side surrendered a three-goal advantage in the final ten minutes of the game following the 65th minute dismissal of Sergio Ramos and were forced to hold on desperately as Atletico searched for a last-minute equaliser.
Real appeared to be cruising to another Madrid derby victory at the fiery Vicente Calderon Ã¢â‚¬â€œ a stadium in which Real have remained unbeaten in over ten years Ã¢â‚¬â€œ following goals from Kaka, Marcelo and Higuain without reply, but a well crafted and finished move instigated and converted by Diego Forlan breathed life into the home side and set up a dramatic finale on 79 minutes.
Atletico fans arrived at the ground expecting their side Ã¢â‚¬â€œ that appeared to be invigorated under new coach Quique Sanchez Flores Ã¢â‚¬â€œ to build on their midweek Champions League draw against Chelsea with a performance full of heart and belief against their arch-rivals, but their hopes were dealt a serious blow as soon as the fifth minute.
A magnificent strike powered into the net from all of 25 yards by Kaka flew past Atletico goalkeeper Sergio Asenjo to give Real the lead.
Real almost doubled their lead on 16 minutes. The impressive Lassana Diarra picked up a loose ball following a Real free-kick and struck a venomous long-range effort that just clipped the upright and hit the side netting.
Another effort from distance had Asenjo scrambling across goal after Portuguese defender Pepe tried his luck from all of 35 yards. The 20-year-old goalkeeper could only parry the ball low to his right but managed to claim the ball at the second attempt.
Asenjo was beaten again on 25 minutes as Real took a commanding lead in the heated contest.
Xabi Alonso slid a ball into Marcelo inside the box, the BrazilianÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s touch took him wide to the right of the goal but he managed to wrap the ball inside AsenjoÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s near post and into the roof of the net from an outrageous angle.
Atletico finally carved out an opportunity after the half-hour mark.
Portuguese winger Simao drilled the ball across goal for Forlan at the far post, but the angle proved too acute for the Uruguayan as he crashed his effort against Iker CasillasÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ right-hand post.
Shortly after, Karim Benzema almost extended RealÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s advantage to three with a toe poke at goal from 12 yards that could only be turned around the upright by Asenjo after good work between Arbeloa and Marcelo on the left flank.
Real dominated the first half and showed great movement off the ball, but it was Atletico that ended the half with a chance to pull a goal back.
Simao was sent clear on goal but his shot was denied brilliantly by the out-stretched hand of Casillas as it appeared destined for the top-right corner.
Shortly after the break, Benzema was presented with another chance to bag the third goal after the Atletico backline failed to clear an out-swinging cross whipped in by Ramos.
The ball fell kindly for Benzema to rise and head home but the FrenchmanÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s header lacked conviction and was sent over the bar under a challenge from Pablo.
The home crowd became progressively disgruntled with the decisions they believed were going against their team and they made their frustrations known with the fairly inexperienced referee Carlos Gomez from the stands.
Pepe denied Forlan brilliantly as the Uruguayan looked set to unleash a strike at goal with a superb challenge to clear the ball out for a corner just short of the hour mark.
Five minutes later, Higuain punished appalling defending at the back by Luis Perea to send his side into a lead that appeared irreversible.
Perea dwelt on the ball and it proved suicidal as Higuain stole possession to drive at goal and plant the ball firmly past Asenjo and into the bottom corner.
It was the Argentine strikerÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s final contribution of the game as he was replaced by Raul.
But, just as Real appeared to be in complete control, Atletico were offered a glimmer of hope a minute later after Ramos was adjudged to have denied second-half substitute Aguero a goal-scoring opportunity with a lunge on the striker as he embarked on the 18-yard box and consequently shown a straight red card.
As Atletico set themselves to take the resulting free-kick, Real coach Pellegrini required medical attention after being hit in the face with a missile thrown from the crowd that was later believed to be a stone.
Atletico began to take advantage of the extra man and mounted a sustained period of pressure.
Casillas was forced to turn UjfalusiÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s mis-hit effort around the post on 69 minutes which was followed by the Spain internationalÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s smart save to deny Raul GarciaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s strike from a corner.
The home sideÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s breakthrough came on 79 minutes and Forlan reminded everyone why he is thought of as one of the deadliest strikers in world football by starting and finishing an incisive move.
His pass out wide to Ujfalusi was returned into his path and the Uruguayan tucked the ball left-footed past Casillas.
Two minutes later, Aguero incited pandemonium in the stands by showing great strength and determination to outmuscle Pepe and latch on to a ball slid down the middle before burying it emphatically past Casillas into the far bottom corner.
Real were unable to maintain possession as Atletico pressed for the equaliser.
A fantastic chance to level the scores fell to Simao after UjfalusiÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s cross could only be glanced across goal for the Portuguese international to strike the ball on the volley, but he lashed his effort high and wide at the far post from six yards.
Aguero then skipped past two defenders before playing in Forlan to send a right-footed shot a yard wide of CasillasÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ right-hand post.
In the 92nd minute second-half substitute Maxi Rodriguez laid the ball off superbly from his chest into the path of Aguero as he advanced on goal, but Casillas was on hand to rescue his side and clear the low strike away from goal with his feet.
For all AtleticoÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s effort in the second half it proved too little, too late and the result leaves them languishing in the drop zone while Real maintain the pressure on Barcelona a point adrift in second-place.
Atletico Madrid: Asenjo, Ujfalusi, Pablo (Sinama P, 89), Perea, Lopez, Reyes (Rodriguez, 60), Raul Garcia, Cleber, Simao, Jurado (Aguero, 45), Forlan
Real Madrid: Casillas, Sergio Ramos, Pepe, Garay, Arbeloa, Lass, Alonso, Marcelo, Kaka (Van der Vaart, 85), Benzema (Gago, 69), Higuain (Raul, 66)
Man of the Match: Iker Casillas Ã¢â‚¬â€œ Despite RealÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s impressive first-half display, without the Spain number one between the sticks it could have been all so different.
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