For the first time this season, week 25 symbolised a key point for the Rosanero: regardless of the result at Cesena, Palermo would remain top of the league. The fourth-placed team had been on somewhat of an unbeaten run in Serie B as of late, and they were looking for an eighth consecutive home game at the Stadio Dino Manuzzi without a loss. Meanwhile, Palermo had not lost in five consecutive matches. Championship contenders and second-placed Empoli needed to seal a home win against mid-table Carpi if they had any hope of closing the four point gap between first and second.
There were three changes from the game last week against Padova: Michel Morganella, Franco Vasquez and Granddi N’Goyi replaced Francesco Bolzoni, Eros Pisano and Valerio Verre with the two latter names finding a place later on as substitutes. It was a return to the bench for Edgar Barreto who’s return to the field after a long injury layoff seemed to be delayed continuously. Yet, while Barreto made the bench, it was still no return to action for attackers Andrea Belotti or Paulo Dybala as both players did not suit up.
Palermo: Sorrentino; Munoz, Terzi, Andelkovic; Morganella, N’Goyi, Maresca, Vazquez, Lazaar; Lafferty, Hernandez
Bench: Ujkani; Pisano, Daprela; Barreto, Di Gennaro, Troianiello, Stevanovic, Verre; Embalo
Cesena: Coser; Volta, Capelli, Krajnc; D’Alessandro, Gagliardini, Cascione, Belingheri, Renzetti; Rodriguez, Marilungo
Bench: Agliardi; Alhassan, Camporese, De Feudis, Garritano, Defrel, Succi, Yabre, Bangoura
The match opened frantically with both sides finding shots easier to come by than possession. An end-to-end opening saw a magnificent save from Stefano Sorrentino who palmed away a volley from Massimo Volta, the keeper punching the air after making an incredible save. It wasn’t over for him either as moments later his save denied Guido Marilungo who had space outside the box to pick his spot before shooting. Vazquez at the other end managed to mishit a volley that bounced in front of goalkeeper Achille Coser.
Only 22 minutes had passed before the first substitution, a nasty head collision between Michel Morganella and Luka Krajnc left the Palermo wingback with a bloodied face and he was replaced by Eros Pisano. The Cesena number 15 picked up the first questionable yellow card of the match. It didn’t seem a particularly malicious challenge as both players were clearly going for the ball.
Seven minutes later, there was a similar scenario in the Cesena area which saw Achraf Lazaar receive a yellow card despite he and Massimo Volta clearly both attempting to head the ball.
It soon became Cesena’s game. The crowd really got behind the home side, and soon the best chance of the game fell to Guido Marilungo. A cross came into the box after Achraf Lazaar was easily beaten down the left-hand side. However, the attacker’s shot was straight over the bar. Two quick yellow cards, one to Kyle Lafferty and the other to Franco Vazquez, ended with a well-positioned free kick for Cesena. The attempt was wasted from Luca Belinghieri.
It seemed just a matter of time at this point for Cesena to score. A combination of solid defending from Palermo – particularly Ezequiel Munoz and Stefano Sorrentino – was enough to thank for the current stalemate. Things went from bad to worse for Palermo. Just six minutes after Achraf Lazaar received his first yellow, a high foot in the direction of Marco D’Alessandro saw him receive a second yellow card just 34 minutes into the game. An impressive display cut short thanks to some questionable officiating.
The red card shook Palermo into life as the sleeping giants finally responded. There were still no clear cut opportunities at goal with both Abel Hernandez and Kyle Lafferty missing half-chances. Beppe Iachini was taking no risks with one red card already in the book. Franco Vazquez became the second substitution before the halftime whistle blew, and on came wingback Fabio Deprelà.
A hopeful overhead volley from Alejandro Rodriguez early in the second half didn’t end the way he planned. Much like his fall in the box, both incidents led to nothing more than goal kicks.
There was another close range free kick for Cesena. This one from Emmanuel Cascione. And while Cesena had several great opportunities from free kicks on the afternoon, Stefano Sorrentino was not even forced to make one save from the dead-ball opportunities. Gregoire Defrel – substituted on from Luca Belinghieri – couldn’t make the most of a great turn inside the box, as his shot went straight at Stefano Sorrentino. Palermo were still holding out with ten men.
With seven minutes remaining, the Rosanero cheered the return of captain Edgar, the midfielder replaced Kyle Lafferty since the attacker already had a yellow card to his name. The change almost had an immediate effect. Il capitano teamed up with Enzo Maresca, but Barreto’s shot was directly at Achille Coser.
With minutes left it looked like Palermo had managed to survive a game playing with ten men. But referee Filippo Merchiori was back in his pocket again reaching for another red card after a two-footed Enzo Maresca tackle saw the veteran leave the field deep into injury time. A straight red was incredibly harsh as the tackle didn’t even touch the Cesena player, much less look malicious. The card was the final straw for Rosanero boss Beppe Iachini who was also sent to the stands for his protests.
The final whistle sounded to end a game that saw more red cards than goals. Palermo held out to record a point away from home against tough promotion challengers Cesena. You could see the satisfaction of a point gained, rather than two points lost.
Cesena 0 – 0 Palermo
Looking back to the start of the season, most knew how important it was to keep Stefano Sorretino at the club. Nothing has proven more crucial in the last two games. The player is clearly Serie A material and his presence makes a huge difference in matches like these.
Credit to Palermo, performances have not been what we would expect from the Rosanero, but they are getting the results needed. Recent selection troubles plus Saturday’s two red cards for Enzo Mascara and Achraf Lazaar have certainly not helped the situation. However, Edgar Barreto’s return today is a huge boost in time for week 26 and he could be joined by Belotti and Dybala.
Next week Palermo welcome Spezia who are currently 8th in the league. The Aquilotti have been impressive of late with seven goals in four games, racking up eight points in the process. The club is also coached by a familiar face, former Rosanero coach Devis Mangia. The reverse fixture saw Spezia claim a 1-0 win over Palermo. One thing is for sure, with Empoli failing to beat Carpi this weekend, Palermo will remain top of Serie B.