AC Milan’s Stephan El Shaarawy marked his 20th birthday with a second-half goal in a 1-0 win over Genoa in Serie A on Saturday while strugglers Siena and Palermo scrapped out a 0-0 draw.
Milan’s victory, which puts them on 10 points from nine games, eases the pressure on manager Massimiliano Allegri despite a poor display that even Brazil forward Alexandre Pato, in his first start for eight months, could not light up.
“The club has always believed in Allegri and we will carry on like this and look towards the next match,” a delighted El Shaarawy told Sky Sport Italia.
“I’m a bit emotional, this has been the best birthday of my life,” added the teary-eyed striker. “I’m emotional and happy both for the win and the goal.”
Despite the victory Milan are still languishing in mid-table a massive 12 points behind leaders Juventus, who will bid to extend their 47-game league unbeaten run at Catania on Sunday.
Genoa could have taken the lead at the San Siro after a 15 minutes when Cristian Zapata gifted the ball to Luca Antonelli.
He crossed to Ciro Immobile, who was too late to slot home but almost scored anyway after Marco Amelia punched the ball into the striker’s face only to see it rebound wide.
The closest Milan came to a goal in a dull first half was after 37 minutes when El Shaarawy collected an overhit corner and flashed the ball across the six-yard box, only to see his team mates rooted to the spot and the chance go begging.
Milan started the second half brighter and could have scored almost straight after the restart when Pato’s raid down the right flank ended with another teasing cross flying across Sebastian Frey’s goal and no-one on hand to put it in the net.
However, it was more graft than craft, and the few fans inside the sparsely populated stadium soon started to make their feelings known, whistling their team’s feeble efforts to break down Luigi Del Neri’s well organized side.
Allegri’s team finally broke the deadlock with 15 minutes left after Ignazio Abate finished some good work on the right by rolling a cross in front of Frey’s goal that this time El Shaarawy, by far Milan’s best player on the night, tapped home.
The Italy forward with the striking haircut, who came through the ranks at Genoa before joining Milan, did not celebrate as a mark of respect for his former club.
His sixth goal this season leaves him joint top scorer in Serie A with Lazio’s Miroslav Klose and Napoli’s Edinson Cavani.
The sluggish manner of Milan’s first win in four games, which ends a run of three straight defeats in all competitions, will do little to ease fears that this could be their worst season since Silvio Berlusconi took over the club in 1986.
Earlier, Siena and Palermo produced an uneventful goalless draw that showed why they were the bottom two in the table.
The first clear chance did not come until two minutes into the second half when Siena substitute Francesco Valiani whipped in an inviting cross that Emanuele Calaio headed wide.
Fabrizio Miccoli thought he had given Palermo the lead after 56 minutes when he fired past Siena goalkeeper Gianluca Pegolo but he was offside. Two minutes later he fired over the bar from close range after a beautiful pass by Massimo Donati.
Miccoli almost set up a goal with over a quarter of an hour to go when he played Nicolas Bertolo through in a smart exchange of passes but Pegolo was equal to the Argentine’s weak shot.
Despite their superiority, Gian Piero Gasperini’s Palermo side could not fashion another chance and the sides shared the points leaving Siena bottom on three with Palermo on seven.