Edin Dzeko made sure that Inter Milan would hold off their Serie A title rivals on Saturday with a last-gasp strike which gave the league leaders a 2-1 win over Venezia.
The Bosnian’s first goal in nine matches in all competitions put the champions five points ahead of AC Milan, who now need to beat Champions League-chasing Juventus on Sunday night to make sure that their local rivals don’t start to pull away from the chasing pack.
With the Milan derby next up after the coming international break, Dzeko’s bullet header relieves the pressure on Inter, who were below their best against spirited opposition who had come into the game hit with a host of Covid-19 cases.
Third-placed Napoli are now seven points behind Simone Inzaghi’s side before they host bottom-side Salernitana on Sunday afternoon.
Defeat was a crushing blow for Venezia, who opened the scoring through Thomas Henry but sit 17th, two points above the relegation zone.
Henry gave the away side a shock lead in the 19th minute when he met Ethan Ampadu’s deep cross with a powerful header that flew past Inter goalkeeper Samir Handanovic.
From that moment on it was almost entirely one-way traffic, with a well-organised Venezia holding off a wave of Inter attacks which lacked their usual incisiveness.
A home crowd limited to 5,000 by Covid regulations grew frustrated as hosts struggled to break down their relatively lowly opposition, with Lautaro Martinez sending a bicycle kick way over the bar 10 minutes before the break.
However they did find the breakthrough five minutes five minutes later when after Ivan Perisic’s fizzing volley was pushed away Nicolo Barella lashed home his second league goal of the season on the rebound.
A baffling Dzeko miss left fans opened-mouth just before the hour mark, the Bosnia striker somehow poking over the bar from inches away after Luca Lezzerini fumbled the ball into his path from Stefano de Vrij’s header.
Inter created little after Federico Dimarco’s powerful free-kick was pushed away but Dzeko made up for his earlier miss by meeting Denzel Dumfries cross with a header to which Lezzerini couldn’t get near.
Earlier Genoa played out a goalless draw with Udinese in the struggling Serie A side’s first match under new coach Alexander Blessin.
Blessin, a top-level novice, arrived on the Italian riviera from Belgian team KV Oostende on Wednesday as Genoa try to climb out of the drop zone.
Genoa performed with more verve than under his predecessors Andriy Shevchenko and Davide Ballardini but missed some presentable opportunities.
They kept pushing for their first league win since mid-September after Andrea Cambiaso was sent off with 11 minutes remaining.
However they stay second-bottom in Serie A after their 20th match without victory, on 13 points, five behind Venezia.
Blessin was a left-field name for Genoa, as Oostende was Blessin’s first senior coaching position after coming up through the academy system at RB Leipzig.
He took over at Oostende in 2020 and led the team to fifth in the Belgian top flight. His former team sat 15th in the 18-team league, four points above the relegation play-off spot, when he departed for Genoa.