Mauro Icardi scored on his Inter return as the Nerazzurri eased to a much-needed 4-0 Serie A win at 10-man Genoa.
Luciano Spalletti's men lost at home to Lazio on Sunday as Icardi's absence from the team continued to overshadow matters on the pitch, with the Argentina international having not played since he was stripped of the captaincy in February.
But despite calls from a section of Inter fans for Icardi to be axed from the squad this week, he was involved for the first time in almost two months at Genoa and the team looked much better for it.
Roberto Gagliardini netted a 15th-minute opener, before Icardi won a penalty that resulted in a red card for Cristian Romero and dispatched the spot-kick himself.
Icardi celebrated with his team-mates and teed up Ivan Perisic in the second half, and Gagliardini's second put the seal on the match as third-placed Inter moved four points clear of rivals AC Milan.
Ex-Sampdoria man Icardi was jeered by the Genoa fans from the off and the home defence appeared distracted by the forward as Gagliardini ghosted into the area to turn Kwadwo Asamoah's left-wing cross past Ionut Radu.
Icardi should have scored five minutes later but fired against the post after latching onto a fortuitous Radja Nainggolan touch and running clear of the Genoa defence.
The striker soon made amends, however, as he bustled past Romero in the area and went down when the centre-back grasped at his shirt. With the hosts down to 10 men, Icardi coolly sent Radu the wrong way from 12 yards in the 40th minute.
Icardi turned provider nine minutes after half-time when his gorgeous pass sent Perisic through and the Croatian wrongfooted Radu for number three.
Gagliardini completed the scoring in the 80th minute, as Radu failed to stop his header from crossing the line in a comprehensive defeat.
What does it mean? Full steam ahead
The sorry Icardi saga appears to now be over - and in the nick of time, too. Inter were just threatening to let the chasing pack back into the Champions League race, having built a commanding advantage in third. This victory should get Spalletti's men back on track and Icardi's presence can aid them in a tricky run-in.
Icardi makes his mark
Icardi is often accused of being a penalty-area poacher, but he turned in a complete centre-forward's performance in his first appearance since February 9. The front man and his Inter team-mates really looked to be enjoying themselves as he bullied the Genoa defence.
Poor Romero run ragged
Romero seems set to join Juventus at the end of the season, but he endured a torrid outing up against the returning Icardi. The centre-back had already escaped censure for one early tug on Icardi's shirt when he received his marching orders late in the first half for a second foolish challenge.
Key Opta Facts
- Icardi joined Christian Vieri (123) as Inter's eighth-highest goalscorer in all competitions.
- Inter won an away Serie A match against Genoa for the first time since December 2011.
- Samir Handanovic kept his 150th clean sheet in Serie A.
- Gagliardini has scored four of his seven Serie A goals against Genoa, including his two top-flight braces.
Inter welcome the dangerous Atalanta to San Siro on Sunday and all eyes will be on the Curva Nord if Icardi is again named in the starting XI. Meanwhile, Genoa face a daunting trip to Napoli.