Round 33 kicked off at the Renzo Barbera as Palermo hosted i lupi from Avellino. The Lega Pro Divisione B champions were 9th place in Serie B, but just two points separated them from third place in the league. With two wins in five they were not the in-form team out of the two, but one of those wins came away from home against Empoli. The stage was set, Palermo had the opportunity to forge a 13 point gap at the top of the table against a team that has been unable to score two goals in any game in 2014.
The usual winger switch that Beppe Iachini opted for saw Eros Pisano and Fabio Daprela replaced by Alen Stevanovic and Achraf Lazaar. Captain Barreto replaced the injured Kyle Lafferty who could only make the bench. Abel Hernandez, Palermo’s top scorer, was still on the injury list. Avellino’s key front man Andrey Galabinov started on the bench, the attacker averaging a goal every three games for the Biancoverdi.
Palermo: Sorrentino; Munoz, Terzi, Andelkovic; Stevanovic, Bolzoni, Maresca, Barreto, Lazaar; Vazquez, Dybala
Bench: Ujkani; Milanovic, Pisano, Daprela; Di Gennaro, N’Goyi, Troianiello; Lafferty, Belotti
Avellino: Seculin; Izzo, Fabbro, Pisacane; Millesi, Zappacosta, Schiavon, Arini, Bittante; Castaldo, Ciano
Bench: Terracciano, Angiulli, De Vito, Tongi, Galabinov, Massimo, Ladriere, Peccarisi, Pizza
Early on Palermo were doing all they could to expose Avellino down the wings. Stevanovic with some magic worked to get the ball into the area but the pass just missed the connection in the box. The Rosanero controlled the ball for long periods and methodically waited for their opening. Their performance in the final area of the field was the only reason they were not ahead within the first 30 minutes. Several deadball chances fell to the wayside after three well positioned free kicks and numerous corner attempts went begging. The highlight at this point was by far the movement and footwork of Paulo Dybala.
As time went by, Avellino began to expose Palermo through the centre of the field. A quick procession of passes opened up Davide Zappacosta, his shot on his weaker foot clutched by Stefano Sorrentino as the Biancoverdi looked for the loose ball.
Moments later it was Stefano Sorrentino to the rescue again as he picked out a pass searching for Ciano in what would have been an almost certain goal. Palermo’s high defensive line almost cost them. The formation of a back three left them rather exposed at times.
In what was an open affair, Palermo should have gone ahead with several decent chances. Alen Stevanovic just could not catch the long ball from Paulo Dybala, Barreto then had his header saved by Andrea Seculin. His chance came from the 6th corner for Palermo. Not for the first time this season Palermo unable to turn deadball chances into goals.
At the other end of the field some overconfident footwork from Sinisa Andelkovic nearly saw the Slovenian in all kinds of trouble, eventually he managed to clear the ball.
Dybala almost marked his excellent performance with a spectacular overhead kick after some great work from the Palermo midfield to earn a corner. Shortly after, Franco Bolzoni’s header found the side netting.
A very early second half sub saw Kyle Lafferty replace Paulo Dybala – the young forward was by far the best player on the field.
Just after the substitution it was Edgar Barreto who opened the scoring in what was looking like a game in which they were destined to draw. Alen Stevanovic delivered a great cross and poor defending left Captain Barreto open at the back post to tap the ball home in his first game back since his suspension.
A second goal would almost seal the game statistically. It was almost two after a poor back pass again from Avellino pressuring Andrea Seculin to rush out. Alen Stevanovic was just unable to intercept the ball.
A chance to break on the counter occurred with Achraf Lazaar opting to go it alone rather than supplying the pass to the on rushing attack. This was not his greatest game in his short time in Rosanero by any stretch.
Avellino turned up the pressure, the game really opened up after the goal. Ezequiel Munoz – a rock at the back – maintained some great control and temperament under pressure. His last ditch double tackle to stop Mariano Arini and Luigi Castaldo ended in causing himself an injury. At this point it seemed his performance was the only reason there was a cleansheet. Milan Milanovic had to hit the ground running to sub for the injured Munoz and to keep control of this game. It wasn’t over for Palermo. Andrey Galabinov came on from the bench and immediately put the ball into the net. Thankfully, the prolific striker was offside with his first touch of the game.
With ten minutes remaining it seemed impossible for Avellino not to score. However, it was Palermo’s substitute who had the greatest influence of all. A free ball in the Biancoverdi box saw Kyle Lafferty and Franco Vazquez both have their close range shots blocked. Finally, Francesco Bolzoni struck the ball into the back of the net. A huge sigh of relief for Palermo and it would be too late for any kind of come back now.
Palermo 2 – 0 Avellino
Barreto 55’ (P), Bolzoni 85’ (P)
The score line hides how close this game really was. Avellino could have easily taken the three points on the day. It was a moderate performance from Palermo without the killer blows in the deadball situations early on to really kill off this game. Achraf Lazaar in particular was unable to get into this game. Paulo Dybala despite coming off early on was influential. His goal tally may not reflect it, but at times his influence has been crucial, perhaps he’s the Fernando Torres of Palermo.
Title rivals Empoli lost 2-0 to a Bari team who are on fire as of late, their low league position hiding the 11 points they’ve accrued in five games. One of the teams that Bari had beaten was Sicilian rivals Trapani. The Granata face Palermo Saturday after losing their last two consecutive games. Palermo will be without Ezequiel Munoz who will be sidelined for the next 15 days. The Rosanero will look to repeat the reverse fixture which they won 3-0 with all the goals coming in the second half.
With time ticking down to the end of the season, Palermo took a huge step closer to the title this week. Empoli’s loss has meant that they have moved 13 points clear at the top. Unlucky for some. The question now is where do Palermo look to reinforce this summer? Who do you want to see in a Palermo jersey next season?
The facts: 9 games left, now 13 points clear, 5 wins needed to guarantee the title.