Real Madrid 2 Levante 0: Bale answers critics in restorative win
Gareth Bale eased mounting pressure on himself and Real Madrid with a brace in the 2-0 La Liga win over Levante.
Real had failed to win any of their previous three matches, with the Santiago Bernabeu faithful reacting furiously as they scrapped past Schalke in the UEFA Champions League on Tuesday despite a 4-3 defeat on the night.
Coach Carlo Ancelotti has had his position called into question in the Spanish press, while Bale - without a goal in nine matches before Sunday - also found his recent performances to be under heavy scrutiny.
Despite once again enduring a mixed reaction from the home support, Bale was influential throughout an impressive first-half performance and broke the deadlock after 19 minutes before turning home Cristiano Ronaldo's strike as the interval approached.
The result means Real head into next weekend's pivotal Clasico showdown at leaders Barcelona just a point behind their great rivals at the top of the table.
An error-strewn display against Schalke in midweek meant Iker Casillas dropped to the bench and Keylor Navas started in goal, with the Costa Rica international a virtual spectator as Real dominated from the first whistle against his former club.
Bale almost fired an instant riposte to his critics by brilliantly controlling the ball with his chest and knee before hooking a volley over in the second minute.
The Wales winger and Karim Benzema combined for Ronaldo to hit the post shortly afterwards amid relentless early Real pressure.
Benzema had the ball in the net after 16 minutes from an offside position when Diego Marino unconvincingly parried a shot by Luka Modric - the midfielder impressing on his first start since suffering a thigh injury in November.
Real's front three were all involved when the opening goal arrived - Benzema crossing from the right for Ronaldo to have an acrobatic attempt cleared off the line, only as far as Bale who rifled home right footed.
He peeled away covering his ears and kicked the corner flag in a fired-up celebration.
Tono made a vital interception to deny Ronaldo - who cut a frustrated figure throughout the match - before Bale saw a rasping cross deflected against the crossbar.
While Bale was the architect on that occasion, he did not know too much about his second goal three minutes before half-time when Ronaldo drove Dani Carvajal's cutback goalwards and the shot decisively clipped the ex-Tottenham man's instep.
Bizarrely, the announcement of Bale as the goalscorer was greeted with boos from a section of the Real support.
The second half began at a more serene pace, although Benzema looked to illuminate matters by lashing a volley over from an acute angle.
Real's France striker almost got the goal his efforts deserved in improbable fashion after 65 minutes when he backheeled a volley from Ronaldo's right-wing cross over his shoulder and against the upright.
To their credit, Levante avoided any further damage as the match meandered to a close - Real substitute Javier Hernandez spurning a free header in the final minute - and they are third bottom and without an away win since September.