AC Milan coach Sinisa Mihajlovic admitted they were lucky to escape with a point from a scoreless draw with Atalanta that prompted club owner and president Silvio Berlusconi to congratulate the visitors on Saturday.
Seven-time European champions Milan are one of several teams looking to clinch a coveted Champions League spot and have signalled their interest by winning their past three league games.
But Atalanta had other ideas, namely claiming at least a point on what was their second consecutive away trip following last week’s shock 3-0 defeat to Bologna.
M’Baye Niang started his first league game of the season alongside Milan’s top scorer, striker Carlos Bacca, who has hit six goals so far.
But despite some early promise the pair failed to spark in what was a match of few real opportunities.
In the end, Milan had 16-year-old goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma to thank after Atalanta spurned a series of second-half chances.
“We earned a point tonight,” Mihajlovic told Sky Sport Italia. “We’re happy we didn’t concede a goal because Atalanta played a really good game.”
Berlusconi thought the visitors had played such a good game that he reportedly paid a visit to their dressing room a visit at full time.
“Congratulations! It seemed like tonight you were Milan,” said Berlusconi.
Milan are unbeaten since Donnarumma made his debut four games ago and amid reports some of Europe’s top clubs are courting him, Mihajlovic said: “He played great again tonight. He’s the future of Italian football.”
He added: “I’m not looking for excuses but a lot of our players are less than match fit and when you know you can’t win, you have to make sure you don’t get beat.
“We’ve got the draw and now we’re looking forward to the international break.”
Atalanta moved up a gear after the hour mark but Edoardo Reja’s men failed to capitalise.
“I’m disappointed, we had four clear chances to score and we really deserved more,” said Reja.
Just after the hour Donnarumma smothered Alberto Grazzi’s angled drive and then looked on as Marten De Roon fired a first-timer just wide of the upright.
Atalanta should have taken the lead on 69 minutes but the towering teenager saved Grazzi’s first-timer from the edge of the area with his legs.
Mihajlovic went for broke by replacing midfielder Juraj Kucka with striker Luiz Adriano and the switch almost paid off, only for the Brazilian’s header from a corner to be cleared off the goalline with 11 minutes remaining.
Milan appeared to have spurned a great chance to snatch victory at the death after a promising counter-attack that saw Andrea Poli find Alessio Cerci to the left of the area.
The former Torino striker drove his effort into the side netting despite having options to his right, but he had been flagged offside.
Earlier, on-loan Sunderland forward Emanuele Giaccherini opened the scoring and Godfred Donsah added a second as Bologna climbed up the Serie A table with a 2-0 win at fellow relegation candidates Verona.
Bologna, promoted at the start of the season, sacked their coach Delio Rossi last week following a string of poor results that had left them third from bottom.
Former Parma handler Roberto Donadoni was handed the reins and in the space of two games has turned the club’s fortunes around to see the club move two points ahead of the drop zone before the remaining weekend fixtures.
Verona, still the only team in Serie A without a win amid the continued absence of injured striker Luca Toni, sit second from bottom ahead of Carpi on goal difference.
With champions Juventus nine points off the pace of leaders Fiorentina ahead of their trip to Empoli, the focus on Sunday will be on Roma’s bid to regain top spot.
Roma sit third, just a point behind Fiorentina and second-placed Inter, who also have 24 points, ahead of hosting Lazio in the city derby.
Inter and Fiorentina are away to Torino and Sampdoria respectively.