Milan: Mauro Icardi hit his maiden goal of the season as unbeaten Inter Milan edged feisty Chievo 1-0 in Verona to extend their lead in Serie A to five points ahead of the rest of Sunday`s fixtures.
Chievo have been among Serie A`s surprise early season high-flyers after hitting eight goals in three games and started this match just two points adrift of Roberto Mancini`s leaders.
But their purple patch came to an abrupt end, the `Flying Donkeys` ultimately paying the price for poor marking and slack defending shortly before the interval when Icardi collected Geoffrey Kondogbia`s floated cross to round Albani Bizzarro and slip the ball under the goalkeeper.
Inter now lead Chievo, Sampdoria, Roma and Torino by five points, although the latter three can close the gap in their respective matches later on Sunday, when champions Juventus, languishing in 16th place on just one point, face Genoa away.
Mancini was happy with the points that kept Inter top for another week, but was quick to calm talk of their title push.
"I`m happy with our performance, but it wasn`t easy. In the first half we couldn`t find space because Chievo were defending so well," said Mancini.
"Plus, it was very hot. It seemed like the middle of August."
He added: "It`s great to be on top, but what counts is being among the top placed teams in the last month of the season."
After last week`s derby win over AC Milan, Mancini had called on his side to maintain their early season momentum but it was anything but straightforward at the Bentegodi stadium.
Inter goalkeeper Samir Handanovic was kept busy early on as the hosts, who held Juventus to a 1-1 draw in Turin last week, piled on the pressure in a bid for an early opener.
Handanovic was tested by Lucas Castro`s deflected drive and the Argentine forward then headed just over from a corner.
Former AC Milan winger Valter Birsa won a free kick on the edge of the area following a clash with Felipe Melo, but he drilled well over from 25 yards.
Melo`s no-nonsense approach has been noted, especially after last week`s derby performance when he tussled with Milan striker Mario Balotelli.
But the former Brazil international said: "Football is a contact sport. If you don`t like it, there`s always tennis."
It was mostly scrappy stuff, but Inter finally broke the deadlock when Kondogbia collected the ball at a throw-in and floated the ball over for the unmarked Icardi.
Chievo`s last line of defence made the Argentinian`s task easier, defender Massimo Gobbi just failing to make contact with Kondogbia`s cross, allowing Icardi to control first-time and round Bizzarri before slipping the ball under the keeper as Gobbi tried desperately to block.
To their credit, Chievo almost replied immediately, Birsa forcing a two-handed block from Handanovic with a shot from distance and then drilling just wide of the far post.
Rolando Maran`s men fashioned the first chance of the second half when defender Alex Telles gave up possession to Alberto Paloschi, whose drive flew just over the crossbar shortly before the hour.
But it was the hosts` last real chance as Inter hung on to hand Chievo their first defeat of the season and boost their own hopes of fighting for the scudetto.