MILAN, Feb 27 (Reuters) - Captain Javier Zanetti scored two minutes from time to salvage a 1-1 home draw for Serie A leaders Inter Milan against second-placed AS Roma on Wednesday.
Zanetti's strike from the edge of the area kept Inter nine points clear, taking them a step closer to retaining their title while maintaining their unbeaten record in the league this season.
Roma, the last side to beat Inter in the league last April, took the lead through Francesco Totti in the first half but conceded after French defender Philippe Mexes was sent off six minutes from time for a second yellow card.
Inter, without main strike duo Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Julio Cruz through injury, played the last 25 minutes with 10 men having already used their substitutes when Maxwell took a knock.
Fiorentina moved above AC Milan into fourth after Papa Waigo Ndiaye's brave diving header gave them a 1-0 home win over Livorno.
European champions Milan, without several first team regulars including Kaka, drew 1-1 at Catania with Alexandre Pato's long range effort being cancelled out by Gionatha Spinesi's header for the hosts.
Third-placed Juventus, who drew 0-0 with Torino in the Turin derby on Tuesday, are four behind Roma and four above the Florence club.
Despite losing 4-1 at home to the champions in September, Roma scented blood in the top-of-the-table clash.
Luciano Spalletti's side beat Inter 3-1 at San Siro in April before defeating their rivals in the Italian Cup final and the Super Cup.
Stuttering Inter, who lost 2-0 at Liverpool in the Champions League last week, snatched a 1-1 draw at Sampdoria at the weekend and entered the clash with Hernan Crespo playing up front on his own in a defensive formation.
The Argentina striker, who scored at Samp, had the first good opportunity when his acrobatic effort hit the post.
Roma got in the first real blow on 38 minutes when Totti netted his 201st goal for the club and his first since mid January.
The captain, overtaking Giacomo Losi to set a club record of 387 top-flight appearances, smashed in at the near post with one touch after beating former team mate Cristian Chivu to the ball.
Roma midfielder Rodrigo Taddei was just wide with a chip in the second half but Inter gradually exerted more pressure despite ending up being a man down after Maxwell's injury.
The visitors were also reduced to 10 when Mexes picked up two bookings in a minute, leaving Inter to besiege the goal.
Crespo had a header well saved by Doni but it was a short reprieve as irrepressible Argentine Zanetti shot home to put Inter in sight of their third title in a row.
Inter Milan coach Roberto Mancini said Wednesday's 1-1 home draw with second-placed AS Roma felt like a victory after the champions maintained their nine-point lead in Serie A.
Captain Javier Zanetti struck two minutes from time to keep Inter's unbeaten league record this season after Francesco Totti had given Roma the lead in the first half.
'It's a draw that's worth a victory,' Mancini told Sky after his side played much of the second half with 10 men because he had used all his substitutes when left back Maxwell was injured.
'Totti scored with their first shot on goal and this changed the game. Then with 10 we suffered.'
Zanetti was unwilling to say the title was wrapped up but still sounded confident.
'It was a difficult match,' he said. 'Fortunately we got the goal and we're still nine points clear. The lead is big, we have to carry on like this because we're not in top form at the moment. It's a pity Maxwell got hurt.'
Inter were already without injured strikers Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Julio Cruz through injury. They drew 1-1 at Sampdoria on Sunday and lost 2-0 to Liverpool in a Champions League last-16 first-leg match last week.
Roma boss Luciano Spalletti came into the game saying his side needed to win to open up the title race. After the match he was more bothered by Philippe Mexes being sent off for two yellow cards minutes before Zanetti's equaliser.
'It was unjust because the second yellow wasn't a yellow,' he said. 'It was absolutely not a foul.'