Mauro Icardi broke a three-game scoring drought to send 10-man Inter top of Serie A thanks to a hard-fought 1-0 win at Bologna on Tuesday.
The Argentina striker had been criticised for a series of lacklustre displays but he was on hand to tap in Adem Ljajic’s low cross on 66 minutes, securing an important three points despite Felipe Melo’s red card minutes earlier.
Bologna were unbeaten in three meetings with Inter but could not find an equaliser against the 10 men, who had drawn their three previous matches.
Under fire Bologna coach Delio Rossi made attacking changes in a bid to force a leveller but his substitutions made little difference and the struggling Rossoblu fell to yet another defeat.
Inter have the best defensive record in Serie A and another clean sheet ensured they returned to top spot at the expense of Roma.
Bologna started the match the brighter of their two sides despite their lowly league position, with 18-year-old Amadou Diawara pulling the strings in midfield as Inter struggled to retain possession.
Ivan Perisic scored at the weekend against Palermo but he could not add to his two Inter goals after 28 minutes, heading out Ljajic’s free-kick for a throw-in from a fine position. Perisic wasted another decent headed chance moments later.
Bologna should have taken the lead after brilliant work from Emanuele Giaccherini freed Mancosu, but Anthony Mounier could not reach the low cross. Alex Ferrari then danced his way into the box with superb skill on 39 minutes, but Santon did well to block him.
With the last kick of the half Ljajic forced goalkeeper Angelo da Costa into his first action of the game, holding on to the Serbian’s set piece.
Icardi had barely touched the ball in the first half but two minutes after the break he should have scored, instead planting his header straight at Da Costa.
The game was livening up and Luca Rizzo shot straight at Handanovic before Da Costa intercepted a low cross from Ljajic.
Icardi was becoming more involved and on 54 minutes he teed up Marcelo Brozovic, but the midfielder’s hopeful strike was easily dealt with by Da Costa despite the shot dipping.
On the hour mark Roberto Mancini’s men were reduced to 10 for the second successive game.
Felipe Melo had to walk after Rizzo nutmegged him and the Brazilian, booked for fouling Giaccherini in the first half, was shown a second yellow card for blocking the Bologna player.
But the 10 men took the lead six minutes later with Icardi scoring his third goal of the season. Brozovic opened the Rossoblu up and Ljajic squared for the Argentina striker to tap in.
Inter seemed to improve after the red card and almost doubled their lead through Icardi, but his deflected effort from Fredy Guarin’s cross was just over the bar.
The hosts created little despite Rossi’s changes and the result leaves Bologna stuck in the bottom three of Serie A, while Inter are top once more.
Mancini himself was sent off in the dying moments for complaining angrily to the officials but his side held on throughout the five added minutes, Handanovic making a tremendous save in the last minute of injury time from substitute Mattia Destro to preserve Inter’s lead.