By Kris Voakes | Italian Football Writer
Even with the score still tied at 2-2 in the 92nd minute, it appeared an inevitability that Inter would pick up three points from their trip to Catania. It had just been that kind of afternoon. The impressive nature of the Nerazzurri’s comeback was lost on nobody as Rodrigo Palacio slotted home the injury-time winner, but earlier proceedings will have ensured that a reality check was quickly delivered soon after.
Such absorbing and enthralling victories can often be mistaken for omens of great fortune to come, but Andrea Stramaccioni will have been sure to temper the confidence gained from such a remarkable turnaround with the knowledge that attitudes need to change, and soon, if Inter are to have a hope in hell of making the top three.
While they stand within a point of third-placed AC Milan with 11 matches left to play, Inter still have a lot of improving to do if they are to realistically challenge their city rivals between now and May 19. Having conceded four goals to Fiorentina a fortnight ago and handed over countless opportunities in the first half of last week’s Derby della Madonnina, things did not get any better in the opening 45 minutes at the Massimino.
Before the game had really settled into any kind of pattern, Juan Jesus allowed Gonzalo Bergessio to ease him off the ball before it ran out of play before lifting the ball past the advancing Samir Handanovic. The same defender then completely lost his man, with Giovanni Marchese being left to steer a free header beyond Handanovic. Catania were two up inside 20 minutes, and could have had more by the break but for some smart work by Inter’s Slovenian goalkeeper.
|MATCH FACTS | Catania 2-3 Inter
Yet for a second successive week, there was a response of real note from the Beneamata. Whereas in Florence the nightmare continued on into the second period, Stramaccioni had been able to provoke a response against Milan and now too against Catania.
Zdravko Kuzmanovic and the utterly useless Tommaso Rocchi were hauled off, with Dejan Stankovic and Palacio being invited to change the course of the game. And the Argentine wasted no time in doing exactly that.
First, he latched onto Ezequiel Schelotto’s narrow pass, beat Alexis Rolin to the byeline and crossed for Ricardo Alvarez to head low into the net. He’d been on the pitch for less than seven minutes, and yet already Palacio had caused more problems than Rocchi has in all of his Inter appearances combined.
In the 70th minute, Alvaro Pereira delivered a pinpoint cross from the left and Palacio’s excellent off-the-ball run took Nicolas Spolli out of the equation, to leave himself with the straight-forward task of heading beyond Mariano Andujar.
By now, Catania were living on their nerves, with Rolin and Spolli looking afraid of every move Palacio made, and whereas at half-time nobody could have envisaged an Inter win, the three points were now easy to predict.
With the board having already gone up to signal stoppage time, Esteban Cambiasso held onto the ball long enough to wriggle away from a scattered back line before cutting back for Palacio, who made Rolin pay for watching the ball rather than his man by slamming the loose ball home to complete a magnificent comeback.
The achievement of overcoming a Catania side who have spent the last seven seasons making themselves difficult to beat at home should not be downplayed, with only Milan and Juventus having previously taken maximum points from Sicily this season. But Stramaccioni will clearly believe that his side still have major issues to address at the back if they are to make the most of this result. Otherwise, it will take weekly heroics from 18-goal Palacio to paper the gaping cracks.
But one thing that the last two weeks has ensured is the future of Stramaccioni as Inter coach. A fortnight ago there were many who questioned whether Massimo Moratti would allow his trigger finger to get the better of him, but there can no longer be any doubt that the Roman should be in charge come the beginning of next season.
With significant changes and huge improvements having been actioned in successive fixtures, Stramaccioni has proven during his most difficult spell in charge that he has what it takes to affect results in important moments. Now he just needs to be given a shot with better personnel next term in order to have a real go at making Inter competitive again. And if they manage to upset the odds and finish in the top three this term, even better.
- Francesco Totti equalled Gunnar Nordahl's mark of 225 Serie A goals with the penalty which opened the scoring in Roma's 3-1 victory over Genoa. The Giallorossi skipper is now destined to overtake Nordahl and claim ownership of second place overall behind Silvio Piola in the all-time top-flight chart. The 36-year-old remains the driving inspiration behind a side now right back in form under the guidance of Aurelio Andreazzoli. Such is the caretaker coach's impact, even his decision to bring in 18-year-old Alessio Romagnoli for a first start was repaid with a goal by the centre-back. Things are looking up again at Trigoria, and with one of the league's most talented squads at his disposal, Andreazzoli could well extend their current three-match winning run by some way yet.
- Atalanta's victory at Siena has put a huge gap between the bottom three and the rest as we approach the final 11 games of the season. With still more than a quarter of the campaign remaining it already appears to be a done deal that Siena, Palermo and Pescara will be playing Serie B football next term. Only Genoa, who are within five points of the drop zone after their loss in the capital, are within anything like arm's reach for the bottom trio. And with the Robur having been shot down by Giacomo Bonaventura in a crucial six-pointer, Palermo still looking for a fourth win of the season, and Pescara searching for a new coach after sacking Cristiano Bergodi in the hours following their home defeat to Udinese, the likelihood of any of them rising from the ashes seems remote at best.