Atlético Madrid stumbled in their pursuit of Barcelona for the Spanish league title after conceding two late goals to lose at relegation-threatened Sporting Gijón 2-1.
They had looked set to maintain their title challenge after Antoine Griezmann scored from a free-kick in the first half.
The visitors’ defence resisted Sporting’s attack until a late push produced a free-kick that Antonio Sanabria blasted in, with 11 minutes to play.
Sporting’s Carlos Castro completed the turnaround with a goal in the 89th minute, with Atlético playing with 10 men after defender José Giménez went down injured after coach, Diego Simeone, had made all three of his substitutions.
Barcelona lead second-place Atlético by eight points before their visit to fourth-place Villarreal on Sunday.
“We have lost three very important points for the league,” Atlético midfielder Jorge ‘Koke’ Resurrección said. “We know they [Barcelona] face Villarreal, but there is now one game less to go.”
Barring an unlikely late-season collapse by Barcelona, Atlético’s best chance for silverware this season is now the Champions League, in which Friday’s draw pitted them against the Catalan club in the quarter-finals.
Sporting’s fightback was quite a feat for the modest team that was promoted to La Liga this season and entered the round in the relegation zone.
Atlético had conceded a league-low 12 goals in the previous 29 rounds this season, and only one of those in the past six matches.
The match at El Molinón Stadium was following that exact script until Sporting mustered their rally.
After Griezmann curled his free-kick over the wall and just inside the post, the 2014 champions were content to cede Sporting the ball and lock down their defence.
The strategy that Simeone has perfected was working just fine until the last 12 minutes. Sanabria hit the post and, moments later, the striker finally beat goalkeeper Jan Oblak with a powerful free-kick that Atlético midfielder Matías Kranevitter deflected, leaving Oblak out of position to stop.
Shortly afterwards, Giménez pulled up clutching his leg during a sprint to keep up with Sanabria on a counterattack, leaving the latter clear to draw Oblak off his line and pass to Castro with the goal open.
Castro struck the ball off the bar to the disbelief of the home fans, but his redemption came on another attack down the left flank that left him needing only to tap home a pass from Jony Rodríguez.
“We had control of the game until we were down a man when Giménez got hurt,” Koke said. “We knew that Sporting were playing for a lot, but it just wasn’t to be.”