Hellas Verona 1-2 AC Milan: Tonali strike hands champs hard-earned win
Sandro Tonali fired a late winner as AC Milan earned a 2-1 away victory over Hellas Verona to climb to third in Serie A and stay in touch with early leaders Napoli.
Stefano Pioli's visitors got themselves ahead early on when Rafael Leao's cross was diverted by Miguel Veloso into his own net, though the lead lasted just 10 minutes as Koray Gunter's shot came off Matteo Gabbia and nestled in the back of the net.
It looked as if Milan would have to settle for a draw until Tonali's cool finish in the 81st minute proved decisive.
Milan's fourth successive Serie A victory over Verona moves them up to third, just three points behind leaders Napoli as Pioli's men look to retain their title.
Milan were in front within nine minutes, Leao showing a burst of pace to beat a defender before his cross was turned in by the unfortunate Veloso as the Verona captain awkwardly tried to clear.
Verona got themselves level in fortuitous fashion when Gunter's shot deflected off Gabbia, completely wrong-footing Ciprian Tatarusanu and flying in.
The hosts hit the woodwork in the second period when Roberto Piccoli headed off the crossbar, before Gunter's fierce volley from the rebound flew just over.
Substitute Ante Rebic went close with a header that Lorenzo Montipo punched away, before the Croatia international played a vital part in his side's winner.
As Milan countered, Rebic's pass was inch-perfect for Tonali to calmly sweep home and give the Rossoneri a lead they would not relinquish.
Verona went mighty close to snatching a draw though, with a couple of goalmouth scrambles seeing desperately clearances by Milan as last-ditch defending made sure of the points for the reigning champions.
What does it mean? Milan battle to an important three points
Tonali's late intervention gave Milan a lift in the early stages of this Serie A title race, ensuring the champions collected maximum points on a weekend where leaders Napoli and second-placed Atalanta both also won.
The victory will be especially sweet considering Verona proved to be tough opponents, the hosts registering 2.2 expected goals (xG) to Milan's 2.14 while having three more shots (19) than Pioli's men (16).
Impactful Rebic off the bench
While Tonali will get the headlines for his winning goal, it is important to note the involvement of substitute Rebic in both the goal and Milan's second-half performance.
Despite coming on at half-time, Rebic finished with a joint-high number of key passes (three) among Milan players while coming up with the superb assist for Tonali's strike.
Olivier Giroud was taken off at half-time as he failed to make much of an impact in the first 45 minutes.
Before making way at the break, Giroud failed to hit the target with any of his three shots, including a fantastic opportunity to make it 2-0 just moments after Veloso's own goal. The former Chelsea striker completed just six passes before Pioli saw enough, replacing him with Divock Origi.
Milan will host Monza in Serie A on Saturday, while Verona will travel to face Sassuolo two days later.