UDINE, Italy (Reuters) - Romelu Lukaku scored a quickfire second-half double to give Inter Milan a 2-0 win at Udinese on Sunday, ending their run of three successive 1-1 league draws and keeping them three points behind Serie A leaders Juventus.
The Belgian forward, who took his league tally for the season to 16, broke the deadlock in the 64th minute and converted a penalty seven minutes later for new-look Inter, who had been on the back foot for much of the game.
Inter, with 51 points from 22 games, stayed three points behind leaders Juventus, who beat Fiorentina 3-0 earlier on Sunday, and two ahead of Lazio, who thumped SPAL 5-1. However, Lazio have a game in hand, at home to Verona on Wednesday.
Inter coach Antonio Conte gave new signings Victor Moses and Christian Eriksen their Serie A debuts as they were included in the starting lineup and 17-year-old Sebastiano Esposito replaced suspended striker Lautaro Martinez.
"Lukaku has important qualities although he didn't have his best game today, other than scoring a double," said Inter coach Antonio Conte. "He's still crucial for us and I'm happy to have insisted that he came."
Conte added that his demands for reinforcements in the January transfer window had been justified. "A team like Inter has to have a strong bench," he said.
Inter were also without goalkeeper and captain Samir Handanovic so they gave a rare outing to Daniele Padelli.
Udinese created enough chances to have had a first-half lead. Seko Fofana fired into the side netting while Ashley Young did well to block Jens Stryger-Larsen’s shot and Rodrigo De Paul had a chance in first-half stoppage time but shot straight at defender Alessandro Bastoni.
Inter's best first-half opening fell to Matias Vecino after a good run by Moses but the ball hit the Uruguayan's knee and flew wide.
De Paul had another chance on the hour after Ken Sema's cross found him unmarked in the penalty area but the Argentine slipped and sent his shot wide.
Having survived that, Inter went ahead when Nicolo Barella's pass found Lukaku and his shot went through the legs of defender Bram Nuytinck and past unsighted keeper Juan Musso and into the net.
Substitute Alexis Sanchez's cross glanced the post and Lukaku was foiled by Musso from close range before Inter struck again.
Sanchez burst into the penalty area, was upended by a clumsy challenge from Musso and Lukaku scored from the spot, completing a third successive league defeat for Udinese who dropped to 15th.
(Writing by Brian Homewood; Editing by Toby Davis)