A rare Monday evening kick off, outside of the Superbowl XLVIII hype, 6,000 people gathered in a small town in Tuscany to watch a showdown of their own. It was a date many Palermitani had in their diaries from the fixture announcements, and rightly so. Two clubs battling to regain their Serie A status. Empoli played host to the Rosanero.
Just two points separated first-placed Palermo from second-placed Empoli in the Serie B table. However, with three red cards and four losses in the past five encounters with the Azzurri, Palermo clearly had a fight ahead of them on field to remain top of Serie B.
Deadline day signing Achraf Lazaar only made the bench. Stefano Sorrentino, Andrea Belotti and Edgar Barreto all faced late fitness tests and would miss out on the game.
Palermo: Ujkani; Munoz, Terzi, Andelkovic; Morganella, Bolzoni, Verre, Maresca, Pisano; Lafferty, Hernandez
Bench: Fulignati; Lazaar, Di Gennaro, Troianiello, Stevanovic, Vazquez, Ngoyi, Vitiello, Embalo.
Empoli: Bassi; Laurini, Tonelli, Rugani, Hysaj; Eramo, Valdifiori, Croce; Verdi; Tavano, Maccarone
Bench: Pelagotti, Castiglia, Signorelli, Mchedlidze, Ronaldo, Pucciarelli, Mario Rui, Barba, Pratali.
Palermo kicked off and got this long-awaited game underway. A burst down the left wing early on from Empoli, a low cross bobbled its way through Palermo’s defence to a ready and waiting Maccarone. The first chance of the game went wasted as he dragged the ball across the face of goal. Maccarone left with too much space inside the box.
An opening through the heart of midfield left space for Tavano with his back to goal, finding time to turn, and he let it rip outside of the box. Yet, the shot never looked like it was going in. Palermo were on the back foot in this game, as another cross from the left hand side was wasted. This time it was 24 year old Luca Castiglia missing the target, the player on loan at Empoli from Juventus.
Next, another worrying sign for Palermo, outside of their 18 yard box, Abel hit the ground and required medical attention after an awkward tackle. The attacker left the field holding his shoulder and had to be replaced by Gennaro Troianiello.
Empoli really started to take control of the game. Shortly after the substitution, Samir Ujkani was called into action. Another burst down the left and a fierce low strike toward the near post came from Castiglia. Empoli caused all kinds of trouble down the left flank during the match.
Ujkani kept this game goalless once more after a string of one touch passes made its way to Tavano whose right-footed shot was on target for the top corner. It was a great diving save from Palermo keeper.
The second half started as the first finished. A neatly placed long range shot from Eramo was held by Ujkani.
Finally, there was an opportunity to write about for Palermo! A great 50 yard pass from Morganella to Troianiello, who found Pisano on the edge of the box. Pisano unleashes a quick shot among two defenders but it went straight into the arms of Bassi.
A poor pass from Valerio Verre in midfield left Empoli to quickly attack with an overhead chip leaving Maccarone to chase. His first-time shot was straight over the bar. A huge relief for the Rosanero.
At the other end, Palermo – against the run of play – slammed the post from an inward swinging corner. Pisano rose above the rest to rattle the upright. Palermo were finally starting to build some momentum in the game. Meanwhile the familiar face of Franco Vazquez came on for Verre. Empoli also made a change as Pucciarelli came on for Verdi.
Palermo then received three bookings in a short space of time – Claudio Terzi, Francesco Bolzoni and Michel Morganella. Morganella’s booking meant the Swiss defender will miss the next match against Padova.
A deep cross from Morganella was tipped out of the area by Bassi. Pisano’s follow-up shot was blocked and bounced to Enzo Maresca who hit it first time. The ball deflected on its way towards goal, bounced in the air and Kyle Lafferty met it with a huge leap, heading the ball over Bassi and into the net! A crazy goal for Palermo! A great pogo stick styled celebration from Morganella and Lafferty. With 20 minutes remaining its Palermo held a 1-0 lead over Empoli.
Empoli made another change after the goal: Eramo off for another ex-Palermo attacker, Levan Mchedlidze. A corner from Empoli led to a scrappy exchange. Terzi mishit a clearance and could only manage to knock the ball into the path of Tavano who took full advantage and struck the ball past Ujkani. It was a valiant effort from Samir but there would be no clean sheet on the day.
With ten minutes left to play, both sides were feeling they could steal a result. Excellent pressure on the right wing from Vazquez with a simple run into the box had Troianiello and Lafferty in space and waiting. Troianiello received the ball and smashed it first time from close range against the upright!
Four minutes of stoppages were not enough for either side to get the winning goal. Palermo remain top of the league with the draw but have still yet to win in 2014. A great point for the Rosanero. Not the game it was looking to be, but after only two games in from the winter break, missing Barreto and Belotti may well have been the difference between a draw and sneaking the win.
Empoli 1 – 1 Palermo
(P) 70’ Lafferty, (E) 80’ Tavano
Palermo’s next game is against Padova, a team that has picked up just one win on their travels. From Empoli second from top to Padova second from bottom in the league for Palermo. Padova have had two extra days rest after playing their game on Saturday. Their 4-1 loss at home to Carpi led to former Palermo manager Bortolo Mutti losing his job.
Palermo on the other hand will be without Morganella who will miss the game with a one match ban for collecting too many yellow cards, meaning a potential start for Palermo’s latest signing Lazaar. Sorrentino, Barreto and Belotti are all likely to return to the squad this Saturday.