By Kris Voakes | Italian Football Editor
Five days after two goals in nine minutes kept him in a job, it was two in three that saved Claudio Ranieri’s bacon on Friday as Inter finally returned to winning ways with a 2-0 victory at Chievo.
Despite largely dominating the game, the Nerazzurri looked set to extend their winless streak to 10 games after Diego Milito’s first-half penalty miss sparked a long period of frustration, which had the TV cameramen giving more time to Ranieri and president Massimo Moratti in the stands than they did to the action out on the pitch.
At present, every Inter game is played against the backdrop of an altogether more fascinating soap opera. The fact that their two late goals on Friday night took them back into the top six and to within eight points of the all-important third place in the Serie A table was basically forgotten. Because, deep down, the night was all about Ranieri.
After Goal.com revealed on Tuesday that there had already been contact between Inter and members of Andre Villas-Boas’ entourage, and that Moratti had made up his mind to sack Ranieri at half-time of last week’s 2-2 draw with Catania when the Nerazzurri were 2-0 down, the current incumbent has been forced to endure one of his most difficult weeks in the sport.
For the ‘Tinkerman’, it has been a case of deja-vu after the treatment he was subjected to in his final year at Chelsea, when he even admitted in a press conference that he expected to be sacked in favour of Jose Mourinho, having previously had to read in the news that Sven-Goran Eriksson had been in conversation with his employers.
|MATCH FACTS | Chievo 0-2 Inter
It could have gone another way entirely after Milito’s spot-kick was saved by Stefano Sorrentino, but while Inter never looked entirely convincing in front of goal, neither was the weak underbelly of recent times quite so evident.
After the withdrawal of Angelo Palombo and, most notably, Esteban Cambiasso against Catania, both were absent this time around, with Andrea Poli and Dejan Stankovic instead supplying the energy that has been so rarely evident in recent weeks.
Poli in particular added a dynamism which has been lacking, and while his passing game wasn’t always of the highest quality, it didn’t seem to matter in the grand scheme of things. What Inter had needed was more strength and determination in front of their exposed defence, and the ex-Sampdoria man helped to supply that.
When they entered the final four minutes still on level terms, even the most optimistic of fans must have believed that their quest for a win would continue, but they eventually got their reward for sticking at the task well.
Moments after Cambiasso had blazed over with his first touch of the game, Walter Samuel found himself equally unmarked in a similar area from Wesley Sneijder’s corner and made no mistake, heading across Sorrentino and into the net. The relief was palpable.
Relief became ecstasy soon after as Javier Zanetti and Maicon combined to send in Milito for the second. Three points, finally, had been earned, and Ranieri’s longest week was over.
Inter will now head into their Champions League crunch match with Olympique de Marseille on Tuesday with a spring in their step the like of which has been missing for two months. And they will do so with Ranieri still holding the reins.
When the players and staff gathered to toast the club’s 104th anniversary after the match, the Roman could have been forgiven for treating it like his own birthday they were raising a glass to. The Tinkerman lives to fight another day.Follow Kris Voakes on