Football - Catania win sums up Inter's topsy-turvy season

Inter Milan's 3-2 win at Catania summed up a topsy-turvy season in which they challenged Juventus for the leadership and sunk towards mid-table before returning to the hunt for a Champions League place.

Andrea Stramaccioni, their 37-year-old coach, may have been again contemplating his future after defensive blunders left them 2-0 down after only 20 minutes on Sunday.

Instead, they produced a stirring fightback inspired by halftime substitute Rodrigo Palacio, who set up the first goal and scored two more including a stoppage time-winner.

"We started really badly, committing a terrible mistake for the first goal and another bad one for the second," Stramaccioni told reporters.

"We had 20 minutes which, in my opinion, would have been impossible to recover if our team did not have guts and strength."

The game was a reflection of the season which at one point saw Inter win seven games on the trot, beating Juventus 3-1 away in the process, to move within a point of the leaders.

But they then hit a bad patch, suffering heavy defeats at Udinese and Fiorentina which inevitably put Stramaccioni in the firing line at a club where Gian Piero Gasperini and Claudio Ranieri were both fired last season.

"It was a huge win because we beat the form side in the league at the moment," said Stramaccioni, whose team are fourth.

"It's even sweeter because I don't know if anyone would have backed us after the first half. In the end we deserved the win."

Palacio, signed from Genoa at the start of the season, had been surprisingly left on the bench even though regular striker Diego Milito is out for the season and his partner Antonio Cassano was in the doghouse after a dressing-room row.

Stramaccioni instead fielded Tommasso Rocchi, signed from Lazio at the age of 35 in the January transfer window, but he struggled.

POOR PERFORMANCE

After a somewhat checkered career, Palacio, who is enjoying his first season with a big European club at the age of 31, and has performed impressively with nine goals, belatedly living up his early potential.

Argentines had believed Palacio was destined for greatness during his early days but a poor performance at the 2006 World Cup, when he played for just half an hour against Ivory Coast, set him back.

He eventually left Argentina in 2009 to join Genoa and, having scored consistently for them over three seasons, was signed by Inter to replace Diego Forlan.

"I'll remind you that Rocchi's performance was good enough based on the service we provided him," said Stramaccioni.

"Obviously, he needs to get some minutes under his belt as he's not played in a while. I left Palacio on the bench because we have lots of matches coming up and I have to manage that."

Stramaccioni singled out Brazilian defender Juan Jesus for praise.

A blunder by the 21-year-old, who many felt was not ready for Serie A when he joined Inter in the close season, led to Catania's opening goal, but Stramaccioni was delighted with the way he recovered.

"After making a bad mistake for their first goal, he produced a nearly perfect second half, and showed great character," said Stramaccioni.

The coach also promised that Cassano had served his punishment.

"There's training tomorrow and Antonio will be there just like the rest of his team-mates. There's no need to bring him back because he was never excluded in the first place.

"There can be heated discussions in any changing room. We'll need everyone between now and the end of the season, and that includes Antonio Cassano. But what goes on in the dressing room is our business alone."

brian.homewood@thomsonreuters.com; +41 79 917 1402; Reuters Messaging: brian.homewood.thomsonreuters.com@reuters.net)