Lazio winger's early brace earns his side important home victory...
Lazio moved back to fourth place in the Serie A table with a solid if unspectacular 2-0 victory over Palermo tonight.
Giueseppe Sculli netted an early double to give his side a two-goal lead, which they protected for the duration of the match to secure the three points that moves them back ahead of Udinese in the race for Champions League qualification.
Lazio served a warning of what was to come as early as the third minute when Hernanes sent Sculli scampering through on goal with a fantastic slide-rule pass. The wide-man forced a save from Salvatore Sirigu, but was flagged offside.
Palermo failed to heed the warning, however, and conceded the opening goal from what was an almost identical opportunity in the seventh minute.
Cristian Ledesma was the provider this time, feeding Sculli with a perfectly weighted pass which he took in his stride before sweeping beyond Sirigu to open the scoring.
The Sicilians may have had a new manager, but the defensive frailties which saw them ship seven goals to Udinese last week were still entirely evident.
And it was no surprise when the hosts doubled their lead in the 18th minute. Sculli, who looked marginally offside, nipped in behind the Rosanero rearguard and leaped above Sirigu to nod Ledesma’s deft flicked pass into the net.
From then on in, Lazio appeared content to sit behind the ball and protect their two-goal lead while allowing Palermo to dominate the game in the centre of midfield.
The visitors accepted the opening and began to flood forward in a desperate attempt to find a way back into the match.
They managed to create two clear cut goalscoring opportunities towards the end of the half, but Abel Hernandez’s flick from a Federico Balzaretti cross flashed across the face of goal, and then Javier Pastore’s glancing header from a Josip Ilicic corner was superbly tipped over the crossbar by Fernando Muslera.
In the end, they could not covert their possession into goals and went in at the break knowing they had a mountain to climb in the second half.
Yet, despite finishing the half strongly, they still looked both unsure of new coach Serse Cosmi’s new 3-5-2 formation and extremely susceptible to conceding on the counter-attack.
So, it was of little surprise when Cosmi made a change at the break to address his side’s problems, replacing Sinisa Andelkovic with Fabio Liverani.
However, instead of changing the formation, which appeared to be the problem, he simply moved Giulio Migliaccio back to play as a sweeper with Liverani assuming his berth in central midfield.
The change had little or no real effect as Palermo continued in a similar vein to the first half by controlling possession without managing to provide a cutting edge in the final third.
In fact, their only dangerous shot on target in the second 45 arrived in the 51st minute when Ilicic worked space with a fantastic piece of skill on the edge of the box, but the shot failed to match the build-up and was easily gathered by Muslera.
That chance aside, the Lazio defence and midfield held firm and restricted their opponents to a series of low crosses which flashed harmlessly across the face of goal.
Even though they were rarely an attacking threat themselves, Lazio still managed to create the best opening of the second half.
With 10 minutes left on the clock, Ledesma flighted over a fantastic cross for Guglielmo Stendardo, who sent a bullet header wide of the upright with the goal at his mercy.
The miss didn’t matter much, however, as his side were never in any real danger of throwing away the points.
Lazio continue the battle for that coveted Champions League qualification spot when they meet rivals AS Roma in the derby della capitale next Sunday.
For Palermo it will have to be a lot better when they travel to meet Genoa on the same day.