AC Milan missed out on the chance to close the gap on leaders Inter Milan to a single point as they were held to a 1-1 home draw by Lazio at the San Siro on Sunday.
Earlier in the day Juventus claimed a vital 2-1 victory over Atalanta at Turin's Stadio Olimpico on Sunday to keep alive their hopes of a top four finish in Serie A this season.
Following AS Roma's 2-1 win over Inter on Saturday, Milan knew they could join the capital based team a point behind their city rivals if they won but the draw leaves them third and three points off top. It was also their third straight league game without a win and was met with boos at the final whistle while, for Lazio, the point was a great boost in their fight against relegation. Milan coach Leonardo insisted, though, that the title race is still wide open.
"It's a strange championship with many surprises in terms of form and results and it's very difficult to predict results," he said. "In the seven matches remaining incredible things could still happen."
Despite missing the likes of Ronaldinho, Pato, David Beckham, Andrea Pirlo and Alessandro Nesta, Milan took the lead on 18 minutes. French midfielder Mathieu Flamini broke into the Lazio area and collided with Aleksandar Kolarov. The referee pointed to the spot with Marco Borriello converting high to Fernando Muslera's left.
Until that point Milan had been the better side with veteran Dutch midfielder Clarence Seedorf stinging Muslera's hands with a piledriver. But thereafter it was the visitors who took charge and threatened the most.
They were deservedly level on 32 minutes when Luca Antonini failed to deal with Cristian Ledesma's chip into the box, prodding his weak clearance against Stefano Mauri with the ball falling invitingly to Stephan Lichtsteiner to shoot home.
Antonini almost made amends in the second half but his rasping shot came crashing back off the bar. Borriello then missed a great chance to hand Milan the lead again halfway through the second period as he volleyed Filippo Inzaghi's cross over.
But Andre Dias missed an even better chance for Lazio, volleying over from inside the six yard box. Ignazio Abate had a great chance for the hosts eight minutes from time when Kolarov's back header fell short of Muslera but having toe-poked the ball off the goalkeeper's fingertips, Abate fired over as he fell backwards.
Old Lady holds strong
Under-fire midfielder Felipe Melo grabbed the winning goal eight minutes from time. After the match, the Brazilian was thrilled. "That was my first goal in Turin and I'm happy that it got us an important victory," he said. "I want to dedicate it to my family and the fans. I know that against Siena I was wrong to react against them but we were struggling and we needed their support."
It was a rare bright moment for Juve's players in a trying season, and on a troubling day that began with their team bus coming under attack by their own supporters. But the day ended well as Juve closed to within three points of fourth-placed Palermo with a crucial victory, a fact not lost on coach Alberto Zaccheroni, particularly after two defeats in a row.
"I expected a reaction and I got one. We really wanted this win and now we have a week off to recharge our batteries ahead of our game against Udinese," he said. "We gave everything we had, maybe even more, and we've earned three vital points."
Given they still have to travel to AC and Inter Milan before the end of the season, Juve know they must win their home games to stand a chance of earning a spot in next season's Champions League. And evergreen forward Alessandro Del Piero gave them an undeserved lead on the half hour mark with a brilliant trademark free-kick into the top corner from 25 yards.
But on the stroke of half-time former Juve forward Nicola Amoruso equalised after the home side's defence were caught napping by a ball over the top, allowing Amoruso to slip a shot past goalkeeper Alex Manninger.
Melo saved his team-mates from more abuse - they had been met by a wall of silence at kick-off and were roundly jeered following the equaliser - when he met Del Piero's cross at the back post and sent a looping header back across goal and in. Having arrived as a major summer signing, Melo is widely considered by fans to have been the worst of the team's flops this season and he curiously was seen to be apologising to fans following his goal.
Juve are sixth after Napoli beat Catania 1-0 at home thanks to a goal from Paolo Cannavaro, Fabio's younger brother, six minutes into the second period to go fifth. But Sampdoria's 1-1 draw at home to Cagliari left them in seventh, only behind Juve and Napoli on head-to-head records. Milan host Lazio in the day's late game knowing that victory will take them to within a point of leaders Inter, who lost 2-1 at AS Roma on Saturday.