Leonardo recorded his fifth straight win as Inter Milan boss as the champions beat Cesena 3-2 at the San Siro on Wednesday to go fourth in Serie A.
Christian Chivu was the unlikely match-winner after goals from Erjon Bogdani and Emanuele Giaccherini had cancelled out Samuel Eto'o and Diego Milito's early strikes for the hosts. Cesena finished the game with 10-men after Giaccherini was dismissed 15 minutes from the end. Inter are now just six points behind city rivals and leaders AC Milan but with a game in hand.
Inter are now just six points behind city rivals and leaders AC Milan but with a game in hand. After continuing his perfect start as Inter boss, Leonardo praised Cesena for their resistance. "We were managing the game very very well at 2-0 but then Milito got injured and we had to make a change," he said. "It was a very difficult match, Cesena played very well, they scored two goals and overturned the balance of the game which became a bit of ping-pong.
"In the second half we gave away a lot less and a lot fewer counter-attack opportunities," he went on. "We struggled a lot but this is a very important win."
The hosts dominated from the off with Goran Pandev stinging Cesena goalkeeper Francesco Antonioli's fingers after just five minutes. Cesena were struggling to live with their illustrious opponents and around the quarter hour mark they capitulated twice within a minute.
Eto'o, who was a livewire all evening causing Cesena endless headaches, opened the scoring with a cross shot from a tight angle - his 24th goal in 27 games this season. The second was immaculately created as Eto'o slipped Pandev in behind the backline and the Macedonia forward laid the ball on a plate for Milito to tap home from six yards.
Inter were enjoying themselves and Maicon tried an audacious volley from the right touchline that dipped onto the roof of the net. The only down side came on 20 minutes as Milito limped off to be replaced by Frenchman Jonathan Biabiany.
However, while Inter were bristling going forward, they also showed a brittle backbone as Bogdani was left with time and space to control the ball on his chest, turn and shoot home low into the corner from inside the area. Incredibly, just before the half hour mark, Cesena were level as former Inter midfielder Luis Suarez played the ball over a static and ball-watching defence for Giaccherini to run on to and volley home.
Inter were soon back on the attack, though, and Chivu chipped Antonioli only for Giuseppe Colucci to head the ball clear of the line, although it wasn't obvious if the left-back's curling effort was going in or not. The Romanian was not to be denied, though, and made a late run into the box to head home Maicon's cross in first half stoppage time.
After the first-half fireworks, the second period was a much tamer affar although Eto'o should have bagged a second following good work from Esteban Cambiasso but somehow contrived to crash a shot against the bar from eight yards out.
Suarez was then left unharried to run at the Inter box and lash an effort just past the corner of bar and post. Maicon burst into the box and played a one-two with Pandev but shot weakly at Antonioli.
Any chance Cesena had of mounting another comeback ended, though, when Giaccherini received his marching orders for a second soft booking. He was shown yellow in the first half for a dive in the box but his second card for playing on after the whistle was harsh.
Pandev then managed to sky an effort miles over the bar from inside the six-yard area. Cesena substitute Igor Bogdan had two quick chances but plopped a shot on the turn into Luca Castellazzi's arms before his next effort was tipped around the post.