Mertens brace puts Napoli top, Inter extend winless run
January 28 2018 09:29 PM
Napoli’s Dries Mertens (left) celebrates with Jorginho after scoring a goal against Bologna yesterday. (Reuters)


A brace from Dries Mertens took Napoli straight back to the top of Serie A with a 3-1 win over Bologna yesterday while Inter Milan conceded a last-minute goal at SPAL to extend their winless run to nine games.
The video replay system (VAR) denied Crotone a last-minute winner at home to 10-man Cagliari, the game ending 1-1, and a bizarre miss by Genoa forward Luca Rigoni cost his team a point at home to Udinese as they lost 1-0.
Napoli, briefly dislodged by Juventus who played on Saturday and won 2-0 at Chievo, now lead with 57 points from 22 games, one ahead of the Turin side.
Napoli were stunned when Rodrigo Palacio took advantage of dreadful marking to give Bologna the lead after 25 seconds but they were gifted an equaliser by Ibrahima Mbaye who turned an attempted clearance into his own goal.
The hosts were then awarded a soft penalty which Mertens converted in the 37th minute but there no questions about the Belgian’s second goal in the 59th when he cut inside a defender and curled an exquisite effort into the net.
Inter, leaders in early December, slipped further behind after a game in which both goals were scored by their opponents.
SPAL’s Francesco Vicari turned Joao Cancelo’s cross into his own net to gift Inter the lead and the visitors were on the verge of their first win in all competitions since December 3 until Alberto Paloschi’s diving header levelled the scores.
“When you concede a goal like that in stoppage time, it leaves a bitter taste in the mouth,” said Inter coach Luciano Spalletti.
“It doesn’t change anything though. There is certainly work to be done better. I wouldn’t say I’m worried, even when we were winning I didn’t see big improvements. Now the results are worse, we’re losing easy balls and at other times we’re not fighting.”
The VAR system was used three times at Crotone, firstly to award the hosts a penalty which was converted by Marcello Trotta in the 29th minute and then to confirm a red card for Cagliari’s Fabio Pisacane for a late tackle.
Luca Cigarini levelled for the Sardinians with the last kick of the first half and they held out until the final minute when Federico Ceccherini headed in for Crotone but the referee changed his mind and disallowed the goal after consulting the pitchside monitor.
Valon Behrami’s second-half goal gave Udinese a 1-0 win at Genoa although they had to cling on after Samir was sent off shortly afterwards - the referee changing the card from yellow to red after checking with the VAR.
Genoa should have equalised in the 88th minute when Adel Taarabt’s cross found Rigoni who only had to tap the ball in at the far post but instead contrived to clear it off the line.
Fiorentina’s season took a turn for the worse with a 4-1 home defeat by next-to-bottom Verona and Torino thumped bottom club Benevento 3-0 in the other afternoon game.
On Saturday Sami Khedira and Gonzalo Higuain scored as champions Juventus went top with a 2-0 win at nine-man Chievo. The side from Verona played the last half hour two men down after Samuel Bastien and Fabrizio Cacciatore were both needlessly sent off at the Bentegodi Stadium.
Juventus had difficultly getting past Chievo, who despite their 13th position held on in the first half before Bastien was sent off on 36 minutes after two yellow cards in the space of just two minutes, both for fouling Kwadwo Asamoah.
Cacciatore followed on the hour mark for dissent, after infuriating the referee with a handcuffs gesture.
Five minutes later Khedira picked up a Federico Bernardeschi cross to fire in the opener with Higuain breaking his goal drought, meeting a Douglas Costa cross to head in his tenth goal of the campaign with two minutes to go. Chievo coach Rolando Maran was furious with Cacciatore’s sending off.
“The gesture he made was wrong, but there was no need to send him off,” said Maran.
“A player can lose his head in a tense moment, but when down to nine men, you are left with frustration and anger.”
Juventus captain Gianluigi Buffon sat on the bench on his return after two months out with a calf injury on the eve of his 40th birthday.
“What will I give to Buffon for 40 years?” said Allegri.
“That the next 40 are better than the previous ones.
“Gigi is an extraordinary champion. We’re happy that he’s back and on Tuesday (Italian Cup) he will start.”
Earlier Atalanta, who Juventus meet in next week’s Italian Cup semi-finals, maintained their push for Europe with a comfortable 3-0 win at Sassuolo. “Atalanta are in a great period of form and we need to put in a strong performance,” added 

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