It was an incredible display of determination and resilience, but Bologna finally caved to AC Milan 4-2 at the Stadio Renato Dall'Ara.
Reduced to nine men and 2-0 down inside 35 minutes, the Rossonblu came roaring back in an early three-minute flurry at the start of the second half thinking that they had snatched an unlikely point, but Milan had other ideas as they ramped up the pressure on the depleted hosts.
Initial goals from Rafael Leao and Davide Calabria set Milan off to what they thought would be yet another comfortable victory over Bologna, but the home side had other ideas, with an own goal off Zlatan Ibrahimovic of all people and a wonderful counter-attacking move that was capped off by Musa Barrow.
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In a match where nothing went their way - Adama Soumaoro sent off on 22 minutes as the last man for a foul on Rade Krunic, and captain Roberto Soriano also dismissed for a horror challenge on Fode Ballo-Toure - Bologna defended resolutely and staunchly, with the home crowd cheering them on in full voice till the very end as they sought to upset the balance in the preliminary stages of Serie A's title race.
On 16 minutes, Leao struck through a cruel deflection off Chilean veteran Gary Medel, and Calabria would smash home via another deflection off Nicolas Dominguez; the full-back's strike beating the Argentine for pure pace as it crashed into the net.
Barrow's whipped corner skimmed off the top of Ibrahimovic's head not long after the restart to give the hosts hope, and a beautiful counter-attack in the transitional phase, sculpted by Marko Arnautovic and Roberto Soriano, was finished aptly by the Gambian forward, who scored his fourth goal in as many games.
Milan kept on coming - they were banging on the door for half an hour - and at last Ismael Bennacer fired an arrow deep into the hearts of Bologna; the arrow landed in the bullseye; the bottom corner, and the resistance was finally broken.
Ibrahimovic made late amends for putting through his own net by re-doubling the visitors' cushion late on. He profited from a wonderful Bennacer drive and pass, and the Swede did the rest as he calmly guided the ball past Lukasz Skorupski.
The cliche is that football is a cruel mistress, and Bologna will be reeling from this tonight, as Milan sit pretty at the top of the table: for now, at least.
TALKING POINT - MILAN LUCKY, BOLOGNA EXCELLENT?
It may seem odd to say when they've lost 4-2, but before the first sending off, the hosts were having the better of the game.
Musa Barrow was causing Calabria problems down the left, Arnautovic was looking lively linking play, and Dominguez and Svanberg seemed aggressive in the challenge and direct and forward-thinking in their passing.
The Soumaoro dismissal was harsh but fair; the Frenchman being the last man and hauling down the Bosnian Krunic, and Soriano was rightfully given his marching orders after a sickening, near leg-breaking challlenge on Ballo-Toure.
But regardless - they looked sure in defence, the hosts, and dangerous in offense.
The team selection was partly confusing when analysing midfield balance: Dominguez, Svanberg and Soriano didn't look like it should work on paper, yet it worked wonders in the early exchanges, and the makeshift back three of Medel, Arthur Theate and Soumaoro seemed sturdy enough, and needed a huge slice of misfortune off the thigh of Medel to be breached.
The exclusion of star men like Riccardo Orsolini, Jerdy Schouten and Mitchell Dijks seemed odd, but those playing ahead of them did their jobs superbly - in particular Aaron Hickey, who was bright all evening from left wing-back, even through the Milan barrage.
Bitterly disappointing and unlucky for the Rossonblu, but with a couple more tactical tinkerings, they could well build on what's been a fair start to the campaign.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic esulta dopo il gol in Bologna-Milan - Serie A 2021-22
Image credit: Getty Images
Bologna: Skorupski 7, Soumaoro 5, Medel 6, Theate 7, de Silvestri 7, Dominguez 7, Svanberg 7, Hickey 7, Soriano 6, Barrow 7, Arnautovic 6, Schouten 6, Dijks 6, Binks 6, Santander 6, Orsolini 6.
Milan: Cipriani 6, Calabria 6, Kjaer 6, Tomori 7, Ballo-Toure 7, Bennacer 8, Tonali 7, Castillejo 5, Krunic 5, Leao 7, Ibrahimovic 6, Bakayoko 6, Saelemakers 6, Giroud 6, Kalulu 6.
MAN OF THE MATCH - ISMAEL BENNACER, MILAN
Perhaps not his greatest display in a Milan shirt in the first half, but the Algerian grew into the game, and ultimately became the match-winner.
His inch-perfect strike from range put a dagger in the hearts of the home side, killing all valiant effort that had come before it, and the former Arsenal midfielder had the creativity and energy left in the tank to drive his side on, physically and metaphorically, to slide in Ibrahimovic to finish their opponents off and send many of those in red and blue to their knees.
As the pressure grew and grew and a hint of desperation washed over the Rossonieri, Bennacer had the composure to dictate the tempo of the game; putting his foot on the ball and spraying passes left and right, as well as having the eye to play a penetrative pass through the tight Bologna defensive lines.
Ismael Bennacer, Bologna-Milan, Serie A 2021-22, Getty Images
Image credit: Getty Images
16': GOAL!!! It's Rafael Leao for Milan! A cruel deflection in a situation that didn't seem all that dangerous, but the Portuguese's pace got him in behind Medel, and his left-footed effort loops up over the Chilean veteran and gives Skorupski no chance. Unfortunate for the hosts, who had started brightly.
21': RED CARD! Adama Soumaoro has been sent off! He was the last man! Rade Krunic was felled by the Frenchman, drew the foul, and the hosts have it go from bad to worse. They're down to ten inside the first quarter of the game.
35': GOAL! There's two. Davide Calabria, who hasn't started the game brilliantly, and he's smashed it home after Skorupski flaps at a Ballo-Toure cross. It cannons off Nicolas Dominguez on the line but beats the Argentine for sheer pace and power. 2-0.
49': GOAL!! There's a goal back! A fiercely whipped corner in from Barrow, and it's an own goal! Ibrahimovic the guilty party! 2-1!
52': GOAL!!!!! OOOHHHHH!!!! They've done it! Musa Barrow has done it! 2-2! A fabulous counter attack, made by Arnautovic and Soriano, and a fantastic, confident finish by Barrow.
58': RED CARD! Soriano is off as well! The dangerous challenge from the captain on Ballo-Toure, studs on the leg, it could easily have been a leg breaker there for the Milan left-back. Bologna down to nine.
83': GOALLLLL!!!! It's 3-2! Bennacer! A fabulous hit from the Algerian, just as desperation began to hit. Deflection off Ibrahimovic falls kindly for him, and it arrows into the corner and Milan steal the lead back again.
90': GOAL! Four. It's so unfair on Bologna, but Ibrahimovic guides it beyond Skorupski. Bennacer made it, the Swede finished it.
Bologna's record of only gaining one point from their encounters with Milan extends to 12 games in Serie A.
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