Suso came off the bench to emphatically answer his critics with a stunning free-kick and give AC Milan a much-needed 1-0 win over Serie A strugglers SPAL.
The Spanish forward has become a focus of ire for a section of the Rossoneri faithful amid a wretched start to the season and recently appointed head coach Stefano Pioli dropped him to the bench on Thursday.
It had the desired effect, too, as Suso curled in a majestic 63rd-minute free-kick after his replacement Samu Castillejo hit the crossbar during the first half.
The enterprising Theo Hernandez had a goal disallowed for offside before Suso broke the deadlock, setting up a result that edges Milan into the top half of the table while SPAL remain second bottom.
Lucas Paqueta tested visiting goalkeeper Etrit Berisha when he caught a third-minute drive sweetly, before Pioli’s big selection call almost paid a swift dividend.
Castillejo rattled the crossbar from close range in the 13th minute after Paqueta found left-back Hernandez to cross.
Another man called back into the starting XI, Krzysztof Piatek, sent a speculative first-time effort from range zipping narrowly over, although the hosts lost impetus during an increasingly turgid first period.
Hernandez briefly thought he had given Milan the lead, slotting in first time from Paqueta’s throughball, but the playmaker delayed his pass a fraction too long and the flag was raised.
Suso was introduced for Castillejo in the 57th minute and he quickly made his presence felt – leaving Berisha with no chance after Francesco Vicari was booked for fouling Piatek.
Paqueta failed to lift a finish over Berisha for the goal his endeavours deserved after being played in by Hakan Calhanoglu – wastefulness he almost regretted when Jasmin Kurtic headed over a glorious chance to equalise five minutes from time.
As accurate as it could be: get in there!
— AC Milan (@acmilan) October 31, 2019
What does it mean? Pioli gets off and running
It will take much more than a fitful triumph over relegation candidates to win Milan’s fans round to former Inter boss Pioli but there was a risk of his reign unravelling at a rapid pace after one point from his first two matches in charge. A first clean sheet since mid-September was also welcome.
SPAL claimed a creditable 1-1 draw against Napoli last time out. Nevertheless, a return of seven points from 10 matches suggests a long, hard Italian winter ahead.
Paqueta pulls the strings
Although Suso will deservedly grab the headlines, most of Milan’s best creative moments were down to their Brazilian schemer. Paqueta must still sharpen his end product – the flicker of indecisiveness on Hernandez’s disallowed goal standing as a case in point – but there was plenty to admire from a player who looks set to shoulder his team’s creative burden on this evidence.
Vicari goes off-road
The centre-back played his part in a determined defensive effort but erred decisively by impeding Piatek to leave Suso licking his lips.
Milan face a tough test against Lazio at San Siro next time out, while SPAL will look to get back on track at home to Sampdoria.