Inter Milan moved up to third in the Serie A table after labouring to a 3-0 victory at rock bottom Bari on Thursday.
Following league leaders AC Milan's 0-0 draw with Lazio on Tuesday, Inter closed the gap to their bitter city rivals to seven points and with a game in hand. Although the final score appeared comfortable it did not tell the story of a game that for 70 minutes seemed destined to finish in a sterile goalless stalemate.
But 20 minutes from time Morocco midfielder Houssine Kharja struck his first goal for the champions in his first start for the club. Fellow transfer deadline day signing Giampaolo Pazzini then took his tally for the Nerazzurri to three goals in two games with the first of two added-time strikes before Wesley Sneijder added the third.
Inter coach Leonardo started the game with three strikers but admitted that his team improved when he made changes. "I think it's because with three strikers they had fewer balls reaching them," he said.
There was controversy, however, for Inter when left-back Christian Chivu looked to punch Bari's Alessandro Parisi, an incident that was caught by TV cameras but missed by the referee. "It's there, he did it, of course it's not good," said Leonardo after seeing the TV replay. "We'll manage it ourselves, he'll certainly pay for it."
The major plus, though, was Pazzini, who has been an immediate hit with the Inter faithful. "I'm happy, I've scored three goals in two games but the more important thing was to win," he said. "Bari caused us problems, we struggled in the first half but then in the second we did better and we won a crucial game. We have to keep going in this vein, the most important thing is to maintain our desire to win."
The best chance of the first half came on ten minutes when Bari's Sergio Almiron set his sights from a free-kick just outside the box but Julio Cesar made a diving one-handed save. Inter rarely threatened with a pair of half chances from right-back Maicon the closest they came to creating a breakthrough.
At the start of the second half Cameroon captain Samuel Eto'o worked his way into the Bari box but his shot was deflected behind. Dutch playmaker Sneijder came on early in the second period to make his injury comeback after almost two months on the sidelines, but his rustiness showed as he blazed over when well-placed.
The opening goal came 20 minutes from time after some uncharacteristically slick play in an otherwise stale match. Kharja slipped the ball inside to Eto'o and continued his run, taking the forward's reverse pass and then finishing crisply with his left foot past Jean-Francois Gillet in the Bari goal.
That at least sparked the Serie A basement sitters into life and Alessandro Gazzi burst forward to hit a dipping ball on the volley, but Cesar got both hands behind it to parry. Gazzi was presented with a great chance five minutes from time but on the turn he failed to get a true contact and the ball trickled harmlessly into Cesar's arms.
As Bari pushed up late on to try to rescue something from the game, Pazzini escaped on the break and finished clinically inside Gillet's far post before Sneijder volleyed home with the last kick of the match.