Protests against AC Milan owner Silvio Berlusconi overshadow win vs. Cagliari
"Game over, insert coin and save AC Milan".
With the San Siro eerily empty just an hour prior to kick off and with those present decorating the stadium with banners aiming their vitriol at the club's management, it was an almost no-win situation for the Rossoneri on Saturday night.
While they did secure the result that manager Filippo Inzaghi desperately needed -- a 3-1 win vs. Cagliari -- the performance won't have done enough to satisfy those desperate for change or to avoid headlines being dominated by images of the stands.
The club was warned in midweek when the Curva Sud issued a statement calling for a boycott of the game but the manner in which they conveyed their thoughts led to debate as to whether or not it was the correct approach.
On one side of the argument, this was the ideal way to send a message to the Milan hierarchy. While it was a sad sight and would have hurt Inzaghi personally to see their anger, it was a real indication of the frustration that many have towards club owner Silvio Berlusconi.
Given performances on the pitch in recent times, coupled with the general struggle off it, frustration had been building for some time and ultimately something had to give and be done in a public show of dissatisfaction.
However, the flip side is that the Ultras were not helping the situation by creating an atmosphere that makes it even more difficult for the players to perform and get the club out of its current plight, which sees them sitting seventh in Serie A.
Their intentions are clear -- they seek clarity from Berlusconi on whether he will sell the club or intends to stay. If it is the latter, they want to know how he plans to rebuild and restore former glories.
While fans remain grateful for his contribution since taking charge of an ailing club over three decades ago, it is clear that the present-day Milan are heading in the wrong direction under his stewardship.
After numerous broken promises and countless disappointments regarding management and the construction of the squad, the affection that the fans have for Berlusconi is being compromised and, essentially, change at the top has been requested.
In terms of the game itself, Jeremy Menez opened the scoring with a stunning strike but risked ruining it with a classless celebration that saw him cup his hand round his ear aimed at the jeering fans.
Meanwhile, his fellow Frenchman, Philippe Mexes, continued to prove a defensive liability for his part in Cagliari's goal but -- two minutes later -- demonstrated again his ability to cover it up at the perfect time at the other end of the pitch.
Menez added a third from the penalty spot but Milan wasted late opportunities to make the result more emphatic, although the three points were the main priority.
All in all, there were both positive and negative aspects of the performance as Milan looked lethargic at times but controlled possession. The visitors undoubtedly caused them problems, but at this stage what is the real expectation of the rossoneri?
The performances aren't particularly inspiring but at least the players are showing pride and it is difficult to blame either them or the coach to an extent, given that they appear under terrifying pressure to secure results at all costs.
The lasting image of the night would have been Menez stepping up to take his late penalty with the words "this is the end" emblazoned on a banner behind the goal.
However, much as the fans may demand, it doesn't appear likely that Berlusconi will be leaving any time soon.
Sumeet Paul covers AC Milan for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter: @SP_Calcio.