Ricardo Carvalho made his Chinese Super League debut as Shanghai SIPG recorded a 1-0 win over Jiangsu Suning despite the absence of the suspended Oscar, Hulk and Wu Lei.
Striker Elkeson scored the only goal of the game nine minutes into the second half with a glancing header to move SIPG to within one point of leaders Guangzhou Evergrande, who play Tianjin Quanjian on Sunday.
Coach Andre Villas-Boas was missing from the touchline due to a two-game sanction, but took the decision to include Carvalho -- a free transfer signing in February -- in his starting lineup for the first time this season.
"Before the game our concern with him was his physical condition," assistant coach Xie Hui said. "We were not worried about his football quality at all. Today he has shown his value and he shone throughout the whole game.
"It was a very difficult game because we had four core players missing. We had to come up with an alternative formation. The replacement players put on a good performance and didn't let us down."
Meanwhile, Hebei CFFC remain in third place following a 0-0 draw with fourth-placed Shandong Luneng, while Henan Jianye and Tianjin Teda also played out a goalless draw.
Eran Zahavi scored twice for Guangzhou R&F to move to the top of the goal-scoring charts with 12 from 15 games, but his brace was not enough to stop Dragan Stojkovic's side falling to a 4-3 loss at home to Chongqing Lifan.
Al Kardec gave the visitors the lead in first-half injury time before Zahavi levelled 12 minutes after the restart.
Wu Qing and Fernandinho gave Chongqing a two-goal cushion and Zahavi claimed his second nine minutes from time, only for Feng Jin to score two minutes later to put the result beyond R&F, for whom Tang Miao scored a third two minutes from time.
Beijing Guoan's struggles continued despite Jonathan Soriano's late strike from the penalty spot, with Odion Ighalo and Fan Xiaodong helping Changchun Yatai to a 2-1 win.