Riccardo Montolivo was enjoying a wonderful return to Florence, scoring one goal and creating another, but then the visitors gifted Vincenzo Montella's men two spot-kicksAC Milan blew their chance to go second in Serie A after being held to a 2-2 draw by Fiorentina on Sunday afternoon.
Former Viola captain Riccardo Montolivo was enjoying the perfect return to Florence, scoring the opener before setting Mathieu Flamini up for a second, as the Rossoneri looked set to ease to victory over their fourth-placed hosts, who had been reduced to 10 men following the dismissal of Nenad Tomic for a professional foul.
However, Massimiliano Allegri's men went to pieces in the final quarter, gifting their Champions League qualification rivals a point courtesy of two penalties, which were converted by Adem Ljacic and David Pizarro.
The Rossoneri went into the game as the form side in Serie A and although they started sluggishly, they had the ball in the net less than seven minutes in, with Kevin-Prince Boateng finding the bottom right corner with a wonderfully controlled volley from the edge of the area. Unfortunately for the Ghanaian, Mario Balotelli had just come back from an offside position before he chested the ball back into the path of Boateng.
The Fiorentina goal was breached again just moments later, and this time there was to be no reprieve for the hosts, who were left sickened by both the manner in which they had conceded and the identity of the scorer. Pizarro was in no danger whatsoever when he picked up possession just outside his own box, but he dallied on the ball for far too long, allowing Montolivo to pounce. The former Fiorentina captain picked Pizarro's pocket before advancing into the area and calmly slotting past Emiliano Viviano.
Montolivo proved the principal protagonist of an increasingly enthralling drama. Indeed, the Italy international should have had an assist to go with his goal but Stephan El Shaarawy headed his sublime set-piece delivery straight at Viviano. In the very next passage of play, Montolivo then cynically dragged down Ljajic just as the speeding Serb seemed set to put Stevan Jovetic in on goal.
However, just as Fiorentina appeared to be coming back to life, their revival was stopped dead in its tracks by the extremely harsh dismissal of Tomovic, who was shown a straight red card for barging El Shaarawy off the ball after miscontrolling a simple pass. The Viola’s players were furious, though, as Tomovic had not been the last man, and nor had he used his elbow, as El Shaarawy’s exaggerated reaction to the foul had initially suggested.
To the home side's credit, though, they channelled their frustration in the right way and actually finished the half the stronger, even if they were dealt a further blow by the injury-enforced withdrawal of Jovetic just before the break.
The break seemed to quell Fiorentina’s fire, though, and Milan seemingly put the game to bed with a second goal on 61 minutes. Again Montolivo was involved, the midfielder driving over a low cross from the right wing that Flamini got the faintest of touches on to direct the ball into the net. It was a fitting reward for Flamini, who had failed to make the most of a sublime pass from Ignazio Ibate moments earlier.
Again, though, Fiorentina reacted positively to such a bitter setback, but this time, crucially, they managed a goal, with Ljacic slotting home from the penalty spot after his own mazy dribble into the area had been clumsily halted by Antonio Nocerino.
Milan suddenly looked rattled and conceded a second spot-kick just seven minutes later, with Mattia De Sciglio the culprit this time, allowing Pizarro to level matters after Juan Cuadrado was clumsily tripped in the box.
Fiorentina looked the more likely winners at that stage but neither side could find a late decider, meaning the gap between the two sides in the race for third remains at six points.