MILAN (AP) -AC Milan recorded a much-needed win in beating Genoa 1-0 to move into the top half of the Serie A on Saturday.
Stephan El Shaarawy's sixth league goal of the season on his 20th birthday handed Milan only its third win in nine matches.
The young striker refused to celebrate and left the field at the end of the game with tears in his eyes. El Shaarawy spent almost his entire youth career at Genoa, where he also made his Serie A debut.
"I'm a bit moved, it's been the best birthday of my life. I'm emotional and happy, both with the victory and the goal," El Shaarawy said. "Is this my Milan? I'm happy people are saying that. I'm just trying to give my all and put myself at the disposal of the coach.
"Maybe I've helped (Massimiliano) Allegri, there have been so many stories about him, but I don't think he was ever in doubt because the club has always shown its confidence in the coach."
Milan also had two decent penalty claims turned down in an otherwise dull match at San Siro.
There was still plenty to worry about for coach Allegri, not least in defense, which again looked shaky. However, he was still at the helm following reports he was facing the axe if Milan failed to win.
"It's a deserved victory," Allegri said. "Up until now the criticism has been excessive considering what the lads have done on the pitch. We could have scored in the first half, there were several dubious penalty incidents, we also made several mistakes in our passing. Today, there was a difficult atmosphere so I'm happy the lads reacted.
"I was very calm because the team had always put on good performances. We need to find confidence, especially in front of goal. With goals everything becomes easier."
Genoa remains mired in difficulty as new coach Luigi Del Neri's reign got off to a miserable start. It has gone five games without a win.
Earlier, strugglers Siena and Palermo played out a dull goalless draw.
Alexandre Pato made his first start in eight months, but Milan's injury problems continued as Kevin-Prince Boateng had a knee problem and joined Robinho, Mattia De Sciglio, Djamel Mesbah and Sulley Muntari on the sidelines. Luca Antonini was also forced off at the end of the first half with a thigh injury.
Milan almost gifted Genoa the lead in the 17th minute, when Luca Antonelli intercepted Cristian Zapata's dreadful clearance and crossed into the area. Milan goalkeeper Marco Amelia got a hand to the ball but punched it off Ciro Immobile and was fortunate to see it fly narrowly wide of his right post.
Milan's only bright light was El Shaarawy. He was everywhere, even rescuing Milan in defense.
El Shaarawy put a low cross into the area in the 38th, but the ball rolled across the face of goal and no one in a crowd was able to connect.
Milan had penalty appeals turned down either side of halftime as first Alexandre Pato was brought down by Cesare Bovo before Andreas Granqvist barged into Nigel de Jong.
Milan broke the deadlock when Ignazio Abate collected the ball in what looked to be offside before crossing in for El Shaarawy to tap into the back of the net.
Siena and Palermo also struggled to carve out goal-scoring opportunities. Palermo fared the better in the second half but failed to score for the sixth time this season.
Siena's best chance came in the 28th minute as Francesco Bolzoni's 30-yard drive flew narrowly wide. In the buildup, Emanuele Calaio called for a penalty after being pushed by Palermo midfielder Massimo Donati.
Fabrizio Miccoli missed a glorious chance for Palermo. He beat the offside trap to collect a delightful throughball from Donati but, one-on-one with onrushing Siena goalkeeper Gianluca Pegolo, he blazed over.
It was Siena coach Serse Cosmi's first match against Palermo since the Sicilian club sacked him after just four matches in charge.