Japan fullback Yuto Nagatomo scored the only goal of the game as Inter moved up to seventh in the Serie A table with a 1-0 win at Genoa on Tuesday.
Nagatomo scored for the second match in a row having also netted in the 2-0 weekend win over Fiorentina.
It was the 25-year-old’s fourth goal for Inter since joining the club in January and what’s more, it was a rare header for the former Cesena and Tokyo player, who stands at just 170cm tall.
He was also in the right place in stoppage-time to head a shot from Marco Rossi off the line and help Inter hold onto the three points.
It was a just reward for one of the Nerazzurri’s unsung heroes this season.
Nagatomo has been nearly ever-present in this campaign and has made the leftback slot his own.
For Inter, it was their fourth win in the last five games and they are now just 10 points behind leaders Juventus and at least back in the European qualification picture.
“We’ve got three very important points. We knew we had to jump up the table to close in on the Champions League places,” said goalkeeper Julio Cesar, who has set his eye on a top three finish.
“We have to be in the next Champions League. Every match will be a final for us, we still have to climb up the table,” he said. “No one expected this start to the season, but the major fault is ours because it’s us [players] who go on the pitch and we need to get Inter out of this difficult situation. We’re turning a page and we hope to continue this way.”
Inter coach Claudio Ranieri opted to pair Diego Milito and Giampaolo Pazzini up front together, with the returning Diego Forlan given a place on the bench.
Ranieri also kept faith with youngster Marco Faraoni and gave Andrea Poli, who was previously at Genoa’s city rivals Sampdoria, a debut.
In a first half of few chances Milito linked up with Pazzini, but Sebastien Frey tipped his shot from outside the box around the post.
The best chance came just after the half-hour mark when Walter Samuel met a corner with a bullet header, but Frey made an instinctive save and was up quickly to clutch at Milito’s rushed follow-up.
Genoa had the ball in the net on 56 minutes, but Andreas Granqvist’s header from Miguel Veloso’s leftwing free-kick was controversially ruled out for the most marginal of offsides.
Inter went in front on 67 minutes as Ricardo Alvarez, a halftime substitute, swung over a cross from the right and Nagatomo, the smallest man on the pitch, snuck up at the back post to guide home a header from close range.
Alvarez almost sealed the three points when he let fly from 25m, but between Frey and the post, the ball was kept out of the goal.
Moments later, Rossi had Genoa’s best chance so far, but his shot from 20m took a slight deflection and flew over.
Forlan came on near the end and had a left-foot effort from an angle that Frey dealt with comfortably.
However, then in stoppage-time Nagatomo threw himself in front of a Rossi effort and goalkeeper Julio Cesar then acrobatically tipped over Veloso’s follow-up in a frantic finale.
Pazzini still had a chance to make the points safe on the counter, but Frey came to his side’s rescue.