Atletico Madrid must have known this was coming.
When they repeatedly spurned opportunities to add to Luis Suarez’s opener, a late Real Madrid equaliser at the Wanda Metripolitano became increasingly predictable.
Karim Benzema was the man to deliver it, playing a one-two with Casemiro and slotting home in the 88th minute to secure a 1-1 draw while keeping Real Madrid’s faint hopes of defending their La Liga title alive and also nourishing Barcelona’s chances.
Atletico had the chance to effectively knock Real out of the running but, like in the 2014 Champions League final, let in a late goal against their bitter city rivals which changed the whole picture.
From an eight-point lead on Real with a game in hand, which would have felt unassailable, to just five points and a sense of regret gnawing away at them.
Diego Simeone’s side’s performance implied their recent wobble is over, but they could not kill the game, and Benzema made them pay.
Atletico were bolstered by the double return of Kieran Trippier and Yannick Carrasco, from suspension and injury respectively, while Real Madrid welcomed back their French striker and talisman.
Benzema, Madrid’s top scorer in La Liga with 13 goals, overtook Roberto Carlos as the foreign player with most league appearances for the club, this his 371st and one he will cherish after his late goal.
Suarez had broken the deadlock with a beautiful, impudent finish, using the outside of his boot to guide the ball round Thibaut Courtois and into the net.
The goal was made by Marcos Llorente, restored to a more attacking role by Trippier’s return as right wing-back, who rode a clumsy hack by Nacho to charge forward and play in Suarez.
The Uruguay international notched his 17th league goal of the season, second only to former Barcelona team-mate Lionel Messi on 19, handing Atletico a deserved lead.
Zinedine Zidane’s Real produced an anaemic first 45 minutes, not threatening at all, with their only opportunity coming when the ball struck Atletico defender Felipe’s arm from a corner, only for penalty appeals to be waved away following a VAR check.
Only Courtois kept Madrid in the game early in the second half, making a superb save to deny Carrasco, with Llorente volleying the rebound over, before the goalkeeper saved from Suarez from close range.
Angel Correa, meanwhile, had perhaps the best chance to double Atletico’s lead but fluffed his lines after good work from the impressive Trippier.
These were key moments, huge openings against a feeble Real Madrid, which all went to waste.
It was not until the 80th minute that the visitors created a clear-cut chance, and Benzema wasted it, with Oblak pulling off a splendid double stop to twice deny him from close range.
The Slovenia shot-stopper then emphatically beat away the Frenchman’s free-kick, as Madrid finally started to take the game by the scruff of the neck.
Eventually their late pressure told, with Casemiro and Benzema, the club’s two best players this season in addition to Courtois, combining and levelling the game, snatching hope out of Atletico’s hands and leaving the Spanish title race open.
Atletico still hold the advantage, sitting three points clear and with a game in hand on a Barcelona team who, to their credit, are finding form at the right time.
Simeone's team still have to travel to Camp Nou before the campaign is out, while the result in April's Clasico will also have a huge bearing on the final destination of the trophy.
But if the Rojiblancos, who last won La Liga in 2014, do not go on to lift the trophy, this is the game they will look back on as a pivotal moment of failure.