AC Milan 1-1 Cremonese: Lacklustre Rossoneri held in frustrating draw
Junior Messias scored a last-gasp equaliser as AC Milan were held to a 1-1 draw by relegation-threatened Cremonese at San Siro on Wednesday.
A win would have kept the Rossoneri level on points with rivals Inter in the race for Champions League qualification but they fell behind in the 77th minute when substitute David Okereke shrugged off two defenders before coolly finishing.
Milan would escape with a draw, however, as Messias' free-kick found the net via a deflection in the third minute of stoppage time, while Charles Pickel was sent off in the dying seconds for an off-the-ball incident involving Sandro Tonali.
Stefano Pioli's men have now won just two of their last nine Serie A outings at a crucial juncture of the season, leaving them with an uphill battle on their hands if they are to finish in the top four.
Milan thought they were ahead after just 11 minutes, Alexis Saelemaekers racing onto Pierre Kalulu's throughball before cooly finishing, only for a VAR review to rule the Belgium international offside.
Cremonese made it to the break level despite Divock Origi going close with a low drive as the hosts dominated the first half and they continued to frustrate Pioli's men after the break.
The visitors even went ahead when Okereke showed great strength to get away from Malick Thiaw and Kalulu before firing into the bottom-left corner.
They would not win the game, though, as Messias' low free-kick went in via a deflection to cruelly snatch two much-needed points away from the Lombardy side.
Both teams had big chances in the dying seconds but neither could take them, while Pickel saw red for punching Tonali and will likely receive a lengthy ban.
What does it mean? Milan lose ground in Champions League race
With Lazio, Juventus, Inter and Atalanta all winning their games on Wednesday, Milan required three points to keep up with their fellow European contenders.
They were lucky to come away with one in the end, though, as they scored just once against one of the league's worst defences, hitting the target with just five of their 18 shots and needing an injury-time leveller to avoid defeat.
Saelemaekers full of confidence
Having scored a 97th-minute equaliser off the bench away at Roma on Saturday, Saelemaekers was chosen to start against Cremonese, and he delivered with another strong performance.
He saw a goal disallowed as he proved a useful attacking outlet, with no other Milan player recording more shots (three), key passes (four) and crosses (eight).
Origi fires a blank
Olivier Giroud began the game on the bench as Origi was handed a rare start but he struggled up top for Milan as both he and the team put in a below-par display.
The former Liverpool man failed to score with his three shots, missing his only big chance and failing to create an opportunity as he managed just four touches in the Cremonese box.
Key Opta facts
Among the teams in the top five European leagues, Milan are one of three (along with Nantes and Salernitana) to have drawn the most matches in all competitions in 2023.
Messias' strike was Milan's first goal from a direct free-kick in Serie A since December 2021 (Alessandro Florenzi v Empoli).
Pioli has reached 450 games as a coach in Serie A. He is the seventh coach to reach this milestone in the three-points-per-win era, after Luciano Spalletti, Francesco Guidolin, Gian Piero Gasperini, Walter Mazzarri, Carlo Ancelotti and Massimiliano Allegri.
Messias now has five goals in 21 appearances in Serie A this season, equalling his tally for last campaign (five in 26).
Okereke is the second Cremonese player to score away against both Inter and Milan in Serie A in the same season after Gustavo Dezotti (who did so in 1989-90 campaign).
Both teams are in Serie A action again on Saturday, with Milan hosting Lazio while Cremonese welcome Spezia.