A lot has happened in the last two months.
When we last met, we were calling for patience. This plea was delivered despite a win against Genoa that came on the heels of two consecutive losses. Naturally, that patience would continue to be tested the following three matches.
First up was an unfortunate 1-0 loss away to Frosinone, courtesy of an Alessio Buttaro own goal and some very unlucky finishing from the Rosanero front line. A tough loss for Palermo but not necessarily concerning given it was played at the Benito Stirpe which will always haunt Rosanero fans. Frosinone’s victory pushed them up to third place at the time – they currently sit atop the Serie B standings with a five point cushion over second place Genoa.
A two week break allowed Palermo to travel to Manchester where they would spend a week training at the world class facilities of Manchester City. The hope was to give Eugenio Corini and his staff an incredible opportunity to use all of the latest tools and technologies to his advantage. The club spent those days almost mystified by the pristine training grounds and buildings. Palermo’s very own signing from City, Claudio Gomes, served basically as a tour guide for the players and staff both at the club grounds and around the city.
After the trip to England, things were expected to be better immediately. After all, fellow newly promoted side Sudtirol had to come to Sicily and the vaunted confines of the Renzo Barbera. The reality was a shocking 1-0 loss due to a Mirko Pigliacelli howler in the 20th minute. Again, Palermo could have found their way back into the match but it wasn’t to be. It wasn’t for lack of trying. There were a couple of poor finishes by Matteo Brunori, a Salvatore Elia penalty that was awarded and then taken away after review, an Edoardo Soleri header off the crossbar, a Jacopo Segre goal disallowed for offside, a Luca Vido screamer stopped at the near post and a Francesco Di Mariano shot that went off the inside of the near post and out! The loss was a gut punch and sent the Rosanero tumbling down to 16th place. It couldn’t get much worse, right? Right?
A trip to 5th place Ternana probably was not the best chance to right the ship. The visitors kept the home side at bay in the first half – although Ternana wasted numerous chances to go ahead and probably should have on multiple occasions whereas Palermo only had a single chance. That all changed in the second half. A phenomenal overhead kick just 12 minutes into the second half by Anthony Partipilo started the scoring party. Attempting to one-up his teammate, Antonio Palumbo made it 2-0 in the 77th minute with a glorious turn-and-shoot from well outside the box that beat Pigliacelli at the far post. Raul Moro put the exclamation point on the affair in stoppages with a shot inside the box that beat Pigliacelli once more. It was a demoralizing defeat – the third in a row.
Heading back home, Palermo took on a club that was also in a bad way in Pisa. Questions were swirling around the team and the coach and there were even shouts for Corini to go. In that environment, the Rosanero coach trotted out his 4-3-3 but made some changes to the midfield three. Leo Stulac and Dario Saric would make way for Jeremie Broh and Claudio Gomes in an attempt to solidify the midfield. In the 11th minute, Brunori nodded a ball through on goal for Di Mariano who bagged his first goal of the season to put Palermo in front. The lead would only last for 14 minutes before Pisa found the equalizer thanks to Idrissa Toure‘s goal – a beautiful left-footed curler that found the top corner. Right before half, Brunori would be the assist man again, finding Elia at the back post for a tap in. Things seemed to be turning around.
On the other side of the break, Brunori almost got Palermo a third goal after bringing down a long ball masterfully before missing all alone in front of the keeper. Only a couple minutes later, the Rosanero would find their third goal in the 57th minute with a wonderful hit from outside the box by Elia. The Sicilian bagged a brace and it seemed like Palermo would get a crucial victory. Pisa would not give up, though. Seven minutes after going down two goals, they pulled one back with a tap in after Pigliacelli made an excellent save point blank to keep the first shot out. With the match very much alive, Brunori fumbled an opportunity to get Palermo a fourth goal as he couldn’t control the ball at the back post for a tap in of his own. That left the door open for another euro goal by the visitors as Matteo Tramoni got his first goal of the season with a wicked volley from the edge of the box. Vido nearly put Palermo ahead again but his header caromed off the far post before falling to Elia who shot over. The match would finish soon after and Palermo had a disheartening draw and a point when they needed three.
At least it was a point. And Palermo could hope to build off of that in their second consecutive match at home, this time against Cittadella. Corini stuck with the same lineup as he trotted out against Pisa. After a thrilling 3-3 game just a couple days prior, the match against Cittadella was the complete opposite. The visitors were never truly dangerous all match long whereas the Rosanero were the only ones who threatened to break the deadlock. In the first half, Brunori had a couple of shots from outside the box that were easily controlled. Segre almost scored from range himself but his volley skimmed the crossbar and went out. The best opportunities came late and through Nicola Valente as first he couldn’t connect cleanly on a gorgeous cross to him at the back post. And then, he followed that up with a free kick that kissed the crossbar before going out of play. The match would end 0-0 but beyond another draw, Palermo would lose Salvatore Elia for the season after tearing his ACL in the second half. It was a tough break for one of the bright spots in the season so far. The icing on the cake was that the Rosanero were now firmly in the relegation zone in 18th place.
With an away match to Modena on deck, Palermo needed to build off of the meager but positive momentum. They were quick out the gate and won a penalty within the first ten minutes. Brunori stepped up and buried it, giving the Rosanero an advantage on the road. Pigliacelli was excellent in keeping Modena off the scoresheet with several nice saves in the opening 45. Just before halftime, Palermo doubled their lead after Di Mariano delivered a perfect cross to the back post for Valente to volley home. Valente, needing to step up now that Elia was lost for the season, did just that. In the second half, the Rosanero did not relent. Pigliacelli continued to step up with some crucial saves from long distance and close range. The end result was a 2-0 win, ending a drought of five matches without the full three points. Furthermore, it pushed Palermo out of the relegation zone and more near the middle of the pack.
After three straight positive results, Palermo returned home to take on a good Parma side in 6th place. It also marked the return of ex Franco Vazquez to Sicily. Corini’s message over the past two months has been continuity and he continued to preach it heading into this test. Could Palermo continue to build their confidence against a side expected to fight for Serie A promotion? The answer was yes. The match proved to be straightforward if not even a bit boring. Defensively, the Rosanero limited every Parma opportunity. After back to back games giving up three goals a piece, Palermo have quietly exhibited some defensive solidity as they earned their third straight clean sheet. The breakthrough also came via the defense when Ivan Marconi headed home a cross to give the Rosanero the lead in the 57th minute. It was the 33 year old’s first goal of the season as well as his first ever goal in Serie B. After the final whistle, Palermo had formally and officially moved out of crisis mode and into midtable stability. It was back to back wins and eight points of 12 in the last four matches.
Perhaps it was never truly as dire as it seemed over the last couple of months. After all, some of these results were the product of some incredible goals and unlucky misses. Yet, the Rosanero need to continue to focus on taking it one match at a time and believing in the system Corini has set up. The most encouraging sign through all of this was the behavior of City Football Group in exhibiting the kind of patience that we are simply not used to seeing. There are bound to be more valleys throughout the rest of the season, but these early tests in character have shown the club has what it takes to see them through to the other side.