Serie A - Milan back to winning ways

Sun, 23 Jan 21:43:00 2011

Serie A league leaders AC Milan made a welcome return to winning ways with an uncomfortably scrappy 2-0 victory over Cesena at the San Siro.

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Back to back draws against Lecce and Udinese had seen Milan's closest title contenders Napoli move to within one point of top spot.

But thanks to a Maximiliano Pellegrino own goal just before half time and a last gasp second from Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the Rossoneri saw their four point cushion at the summit restored.

Having recorded an unlikely victory over Milan earlier in the season, Cesena proved to be a thorn in the side once more but failed to capitalise on a night when the league leaders endlessly toiled and will be grateful for the points.

With Lazio, Juventus and Internazionale all dropping points earlier in the day, Milan were presented with the perfect opportunity to reassert their authority at the top of the league in the weekend's final fixture.

But the visitors had clearly not been handed the script as it was they who made the brighter opening to the game with Dominique Malonga showing good promise and drawing an early save from Christian Abbiati.

The Milan goalkeeper was called into more urgent action again within minutes, denying Matias Schelotto on this occasion from point blank range after Luca Antonini's woeful backpass.

After such a nervy opening, adversity continued to confront Milan as they were further shaken by the enforced withdrawal of influential defender Alessandro Nesta with a shoulder injury.

But it was in the aftermath of that unwelcome setback that Milan settled into a more familiar rhythm and before long the home side had created a plethora of gilt edged chances.

The Rossoneri's terrific attacking trio of Ibrahimovic, Antonio Cassano and Robinho were all guilty of fluffing their lines in front of goal and just as it looked like Cesena might scramble into the half time break unscathed, the deadlock was broken.

Having relentlessly poked and probed at the Cesena backline for much of the half, Milan owed their half time advantage to a desperate swing of a Cesena boot.

Pellegrino it was who beat Ibrahimovic to Cassano's through pass but he only succeeded in inadvertently sending the ball past his own goalkeeper for an untidy own goal.

Instead of looking to grab a quick equaliser, Cesena opted for a surprising and illogical second half policy of camping on their own 18 yard line and inviting Milan to attack at will.

But Cesena were fortunate to catch the home side in a sympathetic mood as they lacked the ruthlessness to increase their advantage.

Credit must go to Cesena goalkeeper Francesco Antonioli who, at 41 is the oldest player in the league, showed all his experience to frustrate Milan with a string of fine saves.

But Antonioli had the outside of his post to thank after he had been neatly rounded by the tireless Robinho who struck the woodwork from a tight angle.

Without the precious second goal, Milan entered the final stages of the game in a nervy position and vulnerable to a Cesena counter attack.

Thankfully for the Rossoneri, that attack never came with the elusive final nail in their opponents' coffin instead making a welcome appearance to secure all three points.

Presented with one final chance, Ibrahimovic made certain of his place on the scoresheet, after being earlier denied by Pellegrino, with an emphatic finish across a helpless Antonioli for his 12th of the season.

Thomas Hyde / Eurosport

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