AC Milan moved back into Serie A’s top six as Carlos Bacca’s first-half penalty secured them a 1-0 victory at 10-man Bologna on Saturday.
A run of just one win in their last nine league games had seen the visitors slip out of the Europa League places ahead of their trip to the Stadio Renato Dell’Ara.
But helped by the hosts losing Amadou Diawara to a red card after just 12 minutes, they ground out their sixth away win of the league campaign to move two points above Sassuolo, who visit struggling Frosinone on Sunday.
Cristian Brocchi’s men can also secure a Europa League berth by beating Juventus in the Coppa Italia final later this month, but given the champions’ remarkable form a sixth-placed finish would appear to be a more likely proposition, even though they host in-form Roma in their final game of the season.
Bologna, meanwhile, showed plenty of heart in their last home fixture of the campaign, but never really looked like ending their 14-year wait for a home league win against Milan once Diawara saw red for the second time this season.
Former Milan favourite Roberto Donadoni could hardly conceal his frustration in the home dugout – Adam Masina correctly denied an equaliser by the offside flag a minute from time – as his side’s miserable recent record was extended to just one win from 12 outings.
In a feisty opening to the game, Bologna had strong appeals for a penalty waved away after Alessio Romagnoli appeared to wrestle Sergio Floccari to the ground, before finding themselves reduced to 10 men inside quarter of an hour.
Diawara had already been booked following an altercation with Jose Mauri close to halfway and when the teenage midfielder then lunged in at Riccardo Montolivo moments later, the red card was inevitable.
The hosts had looked the more likely up until that point, but Milan swiftly brought their numerical superiority to bear as they piled on the pressure.
Mauri failed to hit the target with the visitors’ first real opportunity, firing wide from the edge of the box on 29 minutes, before a heavy final touch from Bacca prevented him from breaking the deadlock shortly afterwards.
Bacca was not to be denied five minutes before the break, however, rifling home his 17th league goal of the season from the spot after Luiz Adriano had been upended in the box by home goalkeeper Angelo Da Costa.
Adriano came close to making it 2-0 early in the second half when he glanced a header narrowly wide, while in a rare Bologna attacking foray on the hour-mark, Daniele Gastaldello saw his close-range effort flash past the post with Milan goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma beaten.
Bacca and Adriano were both foiled late on as Brocchi’s side finished the stronger, but a combination of desperate defending and fine goalkeeping from Da Costa kept the gutsy hosts in the contest right to the final whistle.
And to complete Bologna’s misery, they thought they had salvaged a point in the dying moments, only for Masina’s close-range effort to be correctly ruled out for offside.