Gonzalo Higuain scored for the first time in 10 matches as AC Milan ended their winless run by beating SPAL 2-1 in Serie A to ease the pressure on coach Gennaro Gattuso.
There had been reports in Italy that Gattuso could be sacked if Milan failed to gain a positive result against SPAL, having overseen a run of five games without a win in all competitions.
SPAL appeared to have a chance of extending that streak to six when former Rossoneri academy product Andrea Petagna put them ahead.
However, Samu Castillejo levelled in style before Higuain finally found the net and completed the turnaround for Milan, who, despite losing Suso to a late red card, moved into fifth, a point behind fourth-placed Lazio in the race to secure Champions League football.
Milan found no reward for a sustained spell of early pressure, Alessio Romagnoli correctly flagged for offside as he found the net before then finding himself at fault as SPAL broke the deadlock.
Romagnoli was cleverly turned by ex-Milan striker Petagna, whose low effort deflected off the centre-back and into the bottom-left corner.
However, the visitors’ lead lasted just three minutes as Lorenzo Dickmann failed to control Filippo Costa’s poor clearance and Castillejo pounced to rifle a volley into the top-right corner.
Tiemoue Bakayoko blazed over with the goal at his mercy as a gilt-edged opportunity to complete the turnaround went begging amid more haphazard SPAL defending.
Yet they finally paid the price as Higuain silenced his critics, goalkeeper Alfred Gomis getting both hands to his effort but unable to keep it out after Hakan Calhanoglu had knocked the ball into the path of the former Napoli and Real Madrid forward.
Calhanoglu and Bakayoko each had chances to make it 3-1 before Thiago Cionek went close for SPAL, with Suso’s second yellow card for an ill-advised foul on Mirko Valdifior then setting up a nervy finish that would have ended in heartbreak had Milan keeper Gianluigi Donnarumma not produced a stunning diving save to deny Mohamed Fares.
— AC Milan (@acmilan) December 29, 2018
What does it mean? Still more questions than answers for Milan
Higuain’s winner should serve to buy Gattuso more time given Milan’s decent position in the table, however, this was far from a convincing performance and the fact the Rossoneri were clinging on at the end spoke volumes about the work they still have to do.
Higuain ends his drought
The emotion on Higuain’s face was clear for all to see as his close-range effort proved too strong for Gomis to handle. Higuain warmly embraced Gattuso, with the goal extremely significant for both men as the malaise around Milan was lifted somewhat.
Suso sees red
The composure Milan needed to see out the win did not come from Suso, who only served to amplify the tension around San Siro with his rash foul.
Gattuso will have until January 12 to get his side ready for a Coppa Italia trip to Sampdoria before contesting the Supercoppa Italiana with Juventus and then returning to league action at Genoa on January 21, a day after SPAL host Bologna.