MILAN - Javier Zanetti scored his first goal for Inter since November 2002, and Cudini turned into his own net as the Nerazzurri beat Ascoli 2-0 to stay level with Palermo on top of the table and move seven points clear of Roma, who play Fiorentina in tonight's late game.
It was one-way traffic for much of the ninety at the Giuseppe Meazza as Inter dominated the Bianconeri from Italy's Marche region.
The offside flag twice denied Zlatan Ibrahimovic in the opening period before Patrick Vieira rose to send wide a glancing header from Maicon's whipped cross.
Ascoli produced two good chances in the first half, Giampà blazing over the bar before setting up Bjelanovic who was forced to shoot wide after Julio Cesar narrowed the angle.
The breakthrough came four minutes before the break when Javier Zanetti intercepted Crespo's cross-shot from an Ibrahimovic cut-back and slotted in from close range to score his first goal for Inter in almost four years.
Inter's second goal came from a counter attack eight minutes after the restart. Ibrahimovic made a powerful run to the edge of the box before sweeping wide to second-half sub Figo who crossed into the six-yard box where Cudini turned into his own net after beating Crespo to the ball.
Inter's best chance of a third fell to the Argentine forward who had a near-range shot from Figo's cross blocked by former Nerazzurri keeper Pagliuca.
Ascoli wasted a golden opportunity to reduce the arrears when referee Luca Banti pointed to the spot after Maicon handled the ball in the area, Julio Cesar pulling off a magnificent save from Fini to keep Inter's lead intact.
The Brazilian keeper then kept out a header from an unmarked Bjelanovic as the Nerazzurri defended their two-goal advantage until the final whistle.
INTER 2-0 ASCOLI (HT: 1-0)
Scorers: Zanetti 41, Cudini (o.g.) 53
INTER: 12 Julio Cesar; 13 Maicon, 2 Cordoba, 25 Samuel, 11 Grosso (7 Figo 52); 14 Vieira, 15 Dacourt, 5 Stankovic, 4 J.Zanetti; 8 Ibrahimovic, 18 Crespo (21 Solari 90)
Subs not used: 1 Toldo, 9 Cruz, 16 Burdisso, 77 Andreolli, 91 Gonzalez
Coach: Roberto Mancini
ASCOLI: 1 Pagliuca; 32 Nastase, 5 Minieri, 6 Cudini, 3 Lukovic (20 Perrulli 79); 16 Giampà (2 Gotti 52), 27 P.Zanetti, 10 Galloppa, 8 Fini, 14 Skela (9 Paolucci 52); 11 Bjelanovic
Subs not used: 33 Eleftheropoulos, 4 Pecorari, 7 Fontana, 41 Pecchia
Coach: Attilio Tesser
Referee: Luca Banti (Livorno)
Booked: Crespo 34, Samuel 56, Maicon 64, Stankovic 70, Fini 73, Minieri 90+2