AC Milan almost saw a lacklustre performance punished by Croatian small fry HNK Rijeka in the Europa League group stage this evening - as their two goal lead was dramatically cut back in the last ten minutes of the game, before they bagged a stoppage time winner to spare the blushes of the fans and players - running out eventual winners in a 3-2 victory.
The hosts took the lead in the 14th minute, with André Silva angling a stunning finish beyond the Rijeka keeper. The home side were made to work hard, and had to wait until the 52nd to double their lead with a close-range Mateo Musacchio finish.
A defensive blunder saw substitute Boadu Maxwell pull a goal back late on, and Josip Elez thought he'd secured his side a famous point after converting a penalty two minutes later. Patrick Cutrone saved the day for Milan, clipping home a supremely cool finish in stoppage time - before wildly celebrating with his teammates in the home dug-out.
Rijeka almost took a shock lead, with Brazilian striker Héber beating the offside trap, before firing a low shot passed the far post of a flailing Gianluigi Donnarumma in the third minute. The Croatian side's star player was at it again soon after, seeing a close-range effort skew off a defender for a corner - much to the excitement of the 4000 travelling away fans.
Just as Milan looked to be struggling to get a grip on the game, Silva gave his side the lead in emphatic style, charging onto Fabio Borini's through ball, before cutting inside and bending a delicious finish beyond Rijeka stopper Simon Sluga. With 14 minutes on the clock, Milan now looked a far more comfortable team - utilising their five-man midfield to dominate the play.
Jakov Puljić missed a golden opportunity to draw his side level in the 24th minute, appearing as surprised as anyone to find himself five yards away from Donnarumma with a free header. Puljić was unable to generate the neck power required to beat the keeper, and the 18-year-old giant gobbled up the tame effort with ease.
Milan doubled their lead early in the 52nd minute, as captain Leonardo Bonucci inadvertently scuffed a corner knock-down into the six-yard box, where the well-placed Musacchio slammed home a close-range strike - scoring his first goal for the Serie A sleeping giants. Rijeka were clearly deflated by the goal, given that they had matched Milan for quality for much of the game.
With seven minutes left on the clock, Ghanian striker Acosty seized upon a horrific error from Bonucci, who slipped when placed under pressure by the onrushing forward - allowing the 26-year-old to force a shot under the onrushing Donnarumma.
Alessio Romagnoli was then harshly penalised for bringing down Matic Črnic in the box, and Elez squeezed the penalty passed Donnarumma to the jubilation of the ecstatic away fans. However, the famous draw was not to be, as Cutrone perfectly controlled a sumptuous Fabio Borini pass in the last minute of stoppage time, before cooly chipping home the late winner.
It was far from a resounding victory for the home side, who struggled to enforce their superiority over the plucky Croatians for the duration of the game. If Milan are to stand any chance of challenging for domestic and European honours this season, establishing a more coherent playing style will be paramount to under-pressure boss Montella.
AC Milan Line-Up: Donnarumma; Musacchio; Bonucci; Romagoli; Abate; Locatelli; Çalhanoğlu; Kessié; Borini; Cutrone; Silva.
HNK Rijeka Line-Up: Sluga; Vešović; Elez; Župarić; Zuta; Kvržić; Mišić; Bradarić; Héber; Puljić; Pavičić.