Inter extended their Serie A winning streak to six games with a 1-0 victory over Palermo courtesy of Joao Mario’s second-half goal.
Stefano Pioli’s side arrived in Sicily on the back of a draining midweek extra-time victory over Bologna in the Coppa Italia, and it took the Nerazzurri over an hour to break down their struggling hosts.
After heavy pressure on the Palermo goal failed to pay off, Pioli sent on Joao Mario for Ever Banega and it took the Portuguese midfielder just 10 minutes to make his mark when he volleyed home Antonio Candreva’s cross to put Inter ahead.
Palermo – who reduced to 10 men in stoppage time with Alessandro Gazzi’s red card – continued to battle in the hope of salvaging a point, but in the end coach Eugenio Corini was left with a third consecutive defeat and mounting pressure on his position at the club.
Inter had Cristian Ansaldi and Pioli sent off in the closing stages, but the hope of achieving a finish in Serie A’s top four is growing with each result with the head coach now enjoying a league record of seven wins, one draw and just one defeat.
Ilija Nestorovski fired just wide with Samir Handanovic at full stretch in the opening exchanges and Palermo looked bright while their visitors were perhaps fatigued after their cup exploits.
Inter eventually came to life and began to feed Mauro Icardi, who controlled a long Marcelo Brozovic pass wonderfully on his chest only to see his shot easily saved by Josip Posavec.
In the pouring rain in Sicily, Palermo battled hard to stay on terms with their in-form visitors and Robin Quaison went through on goal but hit the side netting with his shot, while at the other end Posavec twice saved well from Candreva’s close range attempts.
Inter ramped up the pressure and Brozovic’s dipping 25-yard drive would have found the net had it not been for Posavec’s acrobatic save, but Pioli’s men failed to make a breakthrough before half-time.
Eugenio Corini’s side continued to frustrate Inter in the second half, withstanding a series of corners and a Roberto Gagliardini shot that flew narrowly over the crossbar, but there was a sense that Palermo’s resistance would not last.
Pioli sent on Joao Mario for Banega and, after Posavec had made a good reaction save from Icardi, the Inter substitute broke the deadlock with a deft close range volley from Candreva’s cross.
Ansaldi was sent off for his second bookable offence after he slid in recklessly on Nestorovski, and Pioli was also dismissed for his remonstrations in the aftermath.
And there was more late drama to follow when Quaison had a goal disallowed due to a preceding free-kick being taken too quickly.
Palermo’s refusal to give up in the dying minutes made for a nervous ending to the game but their hopes ended with Gazzi’s dismissal for a second bookable offence, Inter holding on for a victory and their claim to the title of Serie A’s form team.
Key Opta Stats:
– Inter have won six games in a row in a single Serie A season for the first time since November 2012.
– In these six games Inter have kept four clean sheets, as many as in their previous 22 Serie A games.
– Palermo have lost 12 of their last 14 league games (W1, D1). The Sicilians have lost the most home games (nine) in this season among top five European leagues.
– Antonio Candreva has delivered six assists: only in 2014-15 had he achieved more in Serie A (nine).
– Inter have not faced shots on target for the second time in this Serie A, after their November meeting with Crotone.
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