Atletico Madrid had goalkeeper Miguel Angel Moya to thank for preventing Theo Hernandez inflicting defeat on his parent club as the Champions League finalists clung on for a 0-0 draw at Deportivo Alaves on Saturday.
Victor Languardia hit the bar in the first-half as Alaves dominated throughout.
However, it was Hernandez, on loan from Atletico, who had the hosts’ best chance to seal all three points when his low drive was turned behind Moya two minutes from time.
A point moves Atletico a point ahead of Real Sociedad in fourth, but Diego Simeone’s men lose further ground on the top three with Real Madrid, Sevilla and Barcelona all in action on Sunday.
And a poor day for Atletico was rounded off by muscle injuries suffered by Jose Maria Gimenez and Angel Correa which make them serious doubts for Wednesday’s Copa del Rey semi-final, first leg at home to Barcelona.
In a sign of what was to come, Alaves started brightly and Moya was called into action as early as the seventh minute when he saved smartly from Ibai Gomez.
Languardia was then unfortunate as his towering header came back off the underside of the bar and from the rebound Deyverson and Manu Garcia got in each other’s way as they combined to send the rebound over.
Gimenez left the field in tears early in the second period after tearing a thigh muscle.
However, Atletico did have one great chance to steal the win when Nico Gaitan was left one-on-one with Fernando Pacheco, but was dispossessed as he tried to round the ‘keeper 15 minutes from time.
With Correa also hobbling and Simeone having made all three of his substitutions, Atletico were practically left with 10 men for the final stages.
And Alaves nearly took advantage thanks to an Atletico player as Hernandez bombed forward from left-back but chose to shot with Deyverson waiting for a cut-back and Moya stood tall to deflect the ball wide.
Earlier, sixth-placed Villarreal moved to within two points of Atletico thanks to a 2-0 win over rock bottom Granada to register their first victory of 2017.
Both goals came from set-pieces as Alvaro Gonzalez’s knockdown was turned home by captain Bruno Soriano just before half-time.
And Gonzalez then got his first goal for the club by stabbing home whilst prone on the ground 17 minutes from time.