Italy 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 Champions League in midweek.
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.”
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 the ball 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.
He 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.