Pepe Reina atoned for two calamitous mistakes as his late penalty save saw AC Milan secure a remarkable 2-1 win over Genoa to hand under-pressure coach Marco Giampaolo a reprieve.
Reina, a late replacement for Gianluigi Donnarumma at Stadio Luigi Ferraris, gifted Lasse Schone an opener four minutes before the interval when he bundled in a free-kick.
Milan scored twice in the space of six second-half minutes to turn the game on its head, however - Theo Hernandez thumping in from a tight angle six minutes after the restart before Franck Kessie converted a VAR-assisted penalty.
The referee, who also dismissed substitutes Riccardo Saponara and Samu Castillejo, deemed Davide Biraschi's handball for that penalty was worthy of a straight red card, though Milan's numerical advantage disappeared when Davide Calabria received his marching orders.
Calabria's indiscipline looked set to cost Milan dearly when Reina charged in recklessly on Christian Kouame but, in another dramatic twist, the goalkeeper made a superb save from Schone's spot-kick to secure a vital triumph.
Reina kept the scores level when he denied Lukas Lerager early on, but he was to blame as Schone opened the scoring.
Though Schone's free-kick had some swerve, it should have proved a simple take for Reina, only for the former Napoli man to let the strike squirm out of his arms.
Cristian Romero missed a great chance for Genoa before half-time, before Saponara was sent off from the bench for complaining that the referee had not stopped the match for a head injury.
Krzysztof Piatek's ineffective return to Genoa was cut short at half-time, after which the visitors' fortunes improved, with Hernandez lashing home the equaliser.
The turnaround was complete two minutes later as Piatek's replacement Rafael Leao forced a handball from Biraschi, who saw red after the penalty was awarded following a VAR check.
Kessie made no mistake from 12 yards, but – having drawn a foul from Calabria which saw the Milan defender receive a second booking – Kouame won an 89th-minute penalty as he went down under pressure from Reina.
But Reina made amends, plunging low to his right to parry Schone's effort wide and save the day for Giampaolo.
What does it mean? Giampaolo back from the brink
A loss would have left Milan with five defeats from their opening seven league games – their worst start since 1938-38. With the Giampaolo project already under severe strain, his time may well have been up.
However, this turnaround – and the manner of it – could have just spared the former Sampdoria coach, though his Genoa counterpart Aurelio Andreazzoli, whose side sit 19th, may not be so lucky.
Reina's remarkable return
The writing appeared to be on the wall when Reina, after his calamity in the first half, needlessly dived in on Kouame, but the 37-year-old did not stick to the script as he helped Milan claw their way out of trouble.
Card-happy referee endures a difficult time
It was an extremely tough night for referee Maurizio Mariani who, with the assistance of VAR, did at least get the major calls correct.
By the letter of the law, Biraschi's sending off was the right decision, albeit a harsh one. However, Saponara's complaints over Mariani's failure to stop the play for a head injury were valid, while Milan substitute Castillejo also got on the wrong side of the official in the closing stages.
Key Opta Facts
- AC Milan have received the most red cards in the top five European leagues (5).
- Pepe Reina has saved two of the last six penalties he has faced in Serie A.
- This is the first match in the top five European league in the 2019-20 campaign that has featured four red cards.
Milan return to San Siro after the international break as they take on Lecce. Genoa, meanwhile, face Parma.