Gareth Bale spared Real Madrid's blushes as the winger ended a six-month goal drought to score twice and rescue a 2-2 draw at Villarreal, only to then be sent off.
The Yellow Submarine had seemingly sealed the three points when Moi Gomez netted 16 minutes from time, but Bale – who looked destined for the exit not long ago – doubled his tally for the day late on to prevent a first LaLiga defeat of the season.
In a dramatic finale, he spoiled an otherwise fine individual outing by picking up two late bookings.
Villarreal's dynamism on the front foot caused their visitors real issues, as evidenced by Gerard Moreno's early goal, but Madrid showed flashes of excellence themselves and levelled just before the break through Bale after a sumptuous move.
Zinedine Zidane's men appeared to be hit by a sucker-punch towards the end when Gomez tapped in, but Bale's undeniable quality told in the 86th minute with his equaliser, before the Wales star received his marching orders in stoppage time for a second bookable offence in two minutes.
Madrid were guilty of a stunted start and Villarreal made them pay 12 minutes in – Moreno robbing Sergio Ramos, feeding Samuel Chukwueze for a shot, and then the Spanish striker slammed home on the rebound.
The away side responded well and finished the half on top, seeing Karim Benzema cut in from the left and rifle a low drive against the post from 20 yards.
They levelled stylishly in stoppage time, as Luka Jovic's brilliant flicked pass released Dani Carvajal into the right side of the box and he squared to Bale for a simple tap-in.
Villarreal looked to have got the win when substitute Javi Ontiveros played a clever ball across the face of goal and Gomez nudged over the line.
But Bale struck four minutes from time, drilling into the bottom-right corner from just inside the box to seal a draw.
There was still time for him to pick up two yellow cards in stoppage time, however, the second for catching Xavier Quintilla late.
What does it mean? Bale his own worst enemy this time
Bale has had a miserable time of it in recent months at Madrid and some might even have a point when they say his treatment has been harsh and unwarranted.
There is no doubt Bale proved a point on Sunday, with the winger proving decisive twice and ultimately sparing Madrid from defeat, but he was also his own worst enemy with the sending-off. Both challenges were needless and signs of petulance.
Moreno runs Madrid ragged
Villarreal striker Moreno looked in the mood. The former Espanyol talent's pace, movement and ability on the ball kept Madrid's defence guessing all game and he got a deserved goal.
Ramos fails to lead by example
It was a day to forget for Real captain Ramos. He was culpable for Villarreal's first goal and then failed to cut the ball out for the second. Luckily for him, Bale was there to at least seal a point.
After the international break, Real Madrid host Levante at the Santiago Bernabeu on September 14. Villarreal go to Leganes the same day.