Milan's never-say-die attitude saving Montella from the axe
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MILAN — AC Milan's last-gasp goals are keeping coach Vincenzo Montella from getting axed.
Milan snapped a run of three straight Serie A losses by beating Bologna last week, with Mario Pasalic netting in the 89th minute despite playing for more than half an hour with nine men.
After the exertions of that match, few expected Milan to pull off a similar feat at Lazio on Monday. But once again, the Rossoneri never gave up and Suso scored a fantastic 85th-minute equalizer.
"This group moves me and amazes me because they put their energy, soul and team spirit onto the pitch," Montella said after the Lazio game. "We were coming from a match which had used up a lot of our energy, we were struggling, a lot of players didn't know each other well and hadn't played much together, but I liked the team a lot, especially their spirit."
Four of Milan's last eight goals in the league have come in the last five minutes of their matches, securing vital wins against Crotone and Cagliari. Without the seven points from those goals, Milan would be in an even worse position after a run of poor results had seen it slip from third place to seventh.
Milan is 10 points behind Napoli, which occupies the final Champions League qualifying spot. But fourth-place Inter Milan is only four points above Milan.
A sixth-place finish could also be enough for Milan to return to Europe if the winner of the Italian Cup has already qualified for European competition based on its league position. Juventus, Napoli, Roma and Lazio have reached the semifinals of that competition.
"Of course we believe we can qualify for the Europa League," Montella said. "Since I've been at Milan we have won 13 out of 27 matches as well as the Super Cup. I knew from the beginning that we would have to fight until the end to get into the Europa League."
However, there has been a growing rift between Montella and club president Silvio Berlusconi, with reports claiming that the coach would have been fired had the incoming Chinese owners not intervened.
With Milan's sale to Sino-Europe set to be completed in early March, decisions are shared between them and Berlusconi.
The Chinese investors reportedly vetoed Berlusconi's wish to dismiss Montella this month but could decide to fire the 42-year-old if Milan finishes outside the top six for a fourth straight season and again misses out on Europe.
Milan next faces Fiorentina, one of its direct rivals for a Europa League spot and Montella's former team.
Montella steered Fiorentina to fourth-place finishes in each of his three seasons in charge before he was fired in June 2015, with officials accusing him of a lack of commitment.
Fiorentina is currently eighth, just a point behind Milan.