By Richard Martin
BARCELONA (Reuters) - Real Madrid missed the chance to gain ground on La Liga leaders Barcelona as they drew 0-0 at struggling Athletic Bilbao on Saturday despite hitting the woodwork twice, while their captain Sergio Ramos was sent off for the 24th time in his career.
Barcelona's 2-2 draw at Celta Vigo offered Real the chance to cut their deficit with the Catalans to six points. They nearly got off to the ideal start against Athletic when Karim Benzema chested down an Isco cross, but the Frenchman fired against the post.
Athletic went into the game 16th in the standings and reeling from a shock King's Cup defeat to tiny Formentera but the Basques upped their game with the help of the raucous home support.
Real goalkeeper Keylor Navas had to make two vital saves in the first half from Athletic forwards Aritz Aduriz and Inkai Williams after being highly questioned for his performance against Fuenlabrada on Tuesday.
Down the other end, Athletic custodian Kepa Arrizabalaga showed why he keeps on being linked with a move to Madrid, making a double save in the second half to thwart Marcelo and then Cristiano Ronaldo, who hit the post after the interval.
The usually prolific Portuguese has only two league goals this season and has failed to score in any of his five visits to Athletic's San Mames stadium since it was rebuilt in 2013.
Ramos returned to action wearing a protective mask after two weeks out with a broken nose and picked up an early booking for elbowing Raul Garcia, earning a second with four minutes remaining to earn a record-extending 19th red card in La Liga.
Real are fourth in the standings on 28 points, eight behind leaders Barca, two off third-placed Atletico and three from second-placed Valencia, who visit Getafe on Sunday.
(Reporting by Richard Martin; Editing by Christian Radnedge)