Italy international striker Stephan El Shaarawy marked his 20th birthday by scoring the late goal which gave ailing AC Milan a 1-0 win over Genoa on Saturday, although the pressure on embattled coach Massimiliano Allegri is unlikely to ease.
Allegri kept faith with the 3-4-3 experiment he launched ahead of the 1-0 defeat to Malaga in the UEFA Champions League last week and after a frustrating 70 minutes, in which Alexandre Pato and second-half substitute Giampaolo Pazzini failed to fire, a controversial goal settled the match when El Shaarawy tapped home Ignazio Abate’s low drive from an offside position in the 77th minute.
“There were times tonight that doubt started to creep in, especially after we had created a couple of chances,” Allegri told Sky Italia. “This is the team’s victory, they deserved it. They have come in for some undeserved criticism lately.”
A knee injury to Ghana international Kevin-Prince Boateng meant Brazilian striker Pato started for the first time in eight months, joining El Shaarawy and Dutchman Urby Emanuelson up front.
Genoa started with new coach Luigi del Neri at the helm following the sacking of Luigi de Canio last week and they produced a solid first-half performance against a side struggling to find rhythm.
With only one win in their past seven games, Genoa were hoping to capitalize on Milan’s shaky start to the campaign and were given an opening in the 16th minute.
A defensive error by Colombian defender Cristian Zapata allowed Luca Antonelli to send in a dangerous cross which Marco Amelia, in for the ailing Christian Abbiati, punched out, before Ciro Immobile pounced to send the ball just wide of his post.
It would not be Zapata’s first or last blunder, compounding the frustration of the increasingly unforgiving Rossoneri fans.
El Shaarawy has come to Milan’s rescue several times this season and he produced a fine solo effort on the half-hour which came off Cesare Bovo for a corner.
Barely 10 minutes later the striker sent a delightful ball past Sebastien Frey’s goalmouth, but it found no takers when a tap-in would have done the trick.
Allegri made his only substitution of the half when Kevin Constant replaced Luca Antonini after the defender was left clutching his left thigh following a challenge.
Minutes after the restart, Milan spurned two chances to break the deadlock as Genoa ran out of ideas.
First, Pato cut into the middle to set up Constant, only for the Guinean midfielder to miss the ball by a whisker at the far post.
Emanuelson’s cross then found fellow Dutchman Nigel de Jong in space, but Genoa were more worried when Abate’s shot from the rebound forced Frey to save dramatically with his feet.
Allegri finally replaced Pato with Pazzini, a striker known for his knack of being in the right place at the right time, but once again it was El Shaarawy who rode to the rescue.
Milan had two late chances to compound Del Neri’s disappointing debut, Emanuelson being thwarted by an alert Frey after latching on to El Shaarawy’s great through ball and then hitting the crossbar seven minutes from time.
Earlier on Saturday there were no winners in what was effectively an early season relegation dogfight between US Citta di Palermo and AC Siena, the match ending in a scoreless draw.