Montolivo fires AC Milan back to Serie A’s top half, edges 10-man Catania
Riccardo Montolivo fired AC Milan back into the top half of the Serie A table and into the race for Europe as they recorded a 1-0 victory over 10-man Catania.
The 18-time Italian champions have spent most of the season in the doldrums but four-straight wins have now seen Clarence Seedorf’s men close to within five points of city rivals Inter Milan and the final Europa League berth. While bottom side Catania dominated much of the encounter at San Siro – Montolivo’s screamer on 23 minutes was the only attempt of many that found the net – the doomed Sicilians finally lost heart after Fabian Rinaudo saw red.
Milan coach Seedorf has based his team’s recent revival around the on-field connection between Adel Taarabt and Mario Balotelli and within six minutes the duo had combined to test visiting goalkeeper Mariano Andujar. The Sicilians soon enjoyed a better chance, however, Pablo Barrientos’ fierce left-footed drive forcing Christian Abbiati into a desperate save that won a corner.
The Milan keeper then dropped to block a rasping effort from Francesco Lodi before the hosts pushed back. Taarabt skipped past various challenging Catania defenders before sending Kaka through down the left, but the Brazilian could not pick out a team-mate with his cross.
A golden opportunity followed. Kaka’s free-kick found Adil Rami all alone in front of goal but the France defender somehow clipped his finish over the bar. It would not matter, as Milan found the opening goal in the 23rd minute.
There was no intricate play around the box on this occasion as Montolivo decided to surprise Andujar from 30 metres with what appeared to be a sudden snapshot. Sebastian Leto might have levelled before the break but Abbiati blocked his stab at a rebounding ball and, with half-time fast approaching, Andujar made himself big to deny Balotelli from close range.
Milan emerged from the interval slightly subdued and were given a wake-up call when Nicolas Spolli threatened to clip home from a swerving Lodi free-kick before the hour mark. Gonzalo Bergessio was closed down and shepherded out of shooting range by Kevin Constant after getting the better of Philippe Mexes.
In the 67th minute Bergessio came close to scoring a calamitous own goal. His sliced clearance from a corner did beat the baffled Andujar, but looped over the bar. Still the initiative remained with Catania and Abbiati had to deny the onrushing Castro with his head before flinging himself across the goal-line to repel another rocket from Lodi.
The dismissal of Rinaudo took the wind out of Catania’s sails. A foul against Mexes earned the Argentinian midfielder a second yellow card and his marching orders in the 80th minute and, while the Sicilians remonstrated with the referee, Milan went looking for the elusive second goal.
All they could muster was a rasping drive from Balotelli, which veered just over on the stroke of full-time, but the Rossoneri had done enough to close to resurrect their quest for European football.