Football: Joel Obi leveller saves Mancini blushes in Milan derby

Inter Milan's Joel Obi celebrates after scoring against AC Milan during their Italian Serie A soccer match at the San Siro stadium in Milan on Nov 23, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS 
Inter Milan's Joel Obi celebrates after scoring against AC Milan during their Italian Serie A soccer match at the San Siro stadium in Milan on Nov 23, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS 

MILAN (AFP) - Inter midfielder Joel Obi struck a second-half equaliser in a hard-fought 1-1 draw away to AC Milan to save Roberto Mancini's blushes on the Italian's return to Serie A after a six-year absence on Sunday.

Mancini, who led the Serie A giants to seven trophies including three consecutive league titles from 2004 to 2008, was handed a San Siro baptism of fire on his first game back at Inter after replacing Walter Mazzarri a fortnight ago. On his previous spell at Inter, Mancini had won four, lost five and drawn one in the 'Derby della Madonnina' between the city rivals.

After Jeremy Menez struck in the 23rd minute for the hosts, Nigerian Obi's 61st minute goal secured a deserved share of the points for the Nerazzurri. Milan moved back up to seventh place and are now 13 points adrift of champions and leaders Juventus, with Inter a point further adrift in ninth.

As expected, former Manchester City and Galatasaray handler Mancini ditched the misfiring 3-5-2 used by Mazzarri for a 4-3-1-2 formation, with Nemanja Vidic starting on the bench alongside influential midfielder Hernanes.

With the San Siro was only several hundred supporters short of the 88,000 mark, Pippo Inzaghi's side looked the more nervous in the first city derby of the season. Ghanaian Sulley Muntari almost gifted Inter an eighth-minute opener when his mis-hit pass sent Mauro Icardi clear on goal only for Milan goalkeeper Diego Lopez to somehow block the Argentinian's attempted chip with his trailing leg.

In the 23rd minute. Stephan El Shaarawy's one-two with Michael Essien left the Milan forward in space deep on the left and Menez, unmarked, met the forward's low cross with the inside of his right foot to beat the outstretched Handanovic inside the keeper's far post. It was Menez's fifth goal of the campaign, and second in succession following his strike in a 2-2 draw with Sampdoria a fortnight ago.

Inter's 'ultras' had decked their south end of the stadium out with several banners welcoming Mancini back to the club, and the Italian coach was eventually given reason to smile. Obi was positioned well when he latched on to a poor clearance from Cristian Zapata, and his low strike went between Essien's legs and crawled past the outstretched Lopez into the far bottom corner.