Antonio Di Natale’s sensational brace and Luis Muriel gave Udinese their fifth consecutive victory, sweeping Sampdoria aside 3-1.
The Friulani had won four in a row to get back into the European places and aimed to continue their eight-month unbeaten home run in Serie A. Samp were starting to feel the heat after failing to win in seven, as they were only six points clear of the drop zone. The defence was completely revamped, as Daniele Gastaldello and Angelo Palombo were suspended with Andrea Costa and Nenad Krsticic injured.
There was an early scare after five minutes when Sergio Romero dropped a cross, but Antonio Di Natale was not expecting it and couldn’t take advantage.
Zeljko Brkic punched a dangerous free kick off the head of Paolo Castellini at the back post and crucially smothered at Eder’s feet after the offside trap failed.
Udinese broke the deadlock with a classic Di Natale finish, as he gathered with his back to goal, spun round and immediately placed the angled drive into the far bottom corner past Romero’s fingertips.
However, Sampdoria drew level when Eder smashed a powerful curler into the far corner from outside the box, perhaps with a slight deflection to take it past Brkic.
Di Natale burst forward on the counter inspired by Piotr Zielinski, but his first touch unusually let him down and he was crowded out before he could pull the trigger. A cushioned Di Natale header was captured by Romero and another aimed over the bar.
After the restart Di Natale restored Udinese’s advantage with another sensational goal. He ran on to a long ball and waited for the goalkeeper to rush off his line, hitting on the volley so the ball looped over Romero to go in off the underside of the bar.
Brkic almost gifted Samp with another equaliser thanks to an absolute howler. He got down to smother a long-range Eder shot and somehow let it bounce back over his body, but scrambled over to claw the loose ball off the line.
Brkic did better soon after, fingertipping an Eder daisy-cutter free kick round the base of the far post. Gianluca Sansone came off the bench and almost scored an incredible goal, as his volley from a tight angle took a slight deflection, flying across Brkic to crack against the inside of the far upright.
Luis Muriel set up Di Natale, who slipped in a crowd of players, then it fell back to the Colombian to fire just wide from 10 yards.
Gabriel Silva sparked a dangerous counter-attack that sent Muriel clear on goal, but he hesitated and fired straight at Pedro Obiang.
Muriel finished off the game with a sharp angled drive from 12 yards after Romero’s dreadful kick was straight at him.
Samp wouldn’t give in and in stoppages Sansone stung Brkic’s gloves from distance, while Muriel wasted another great counter created by Di Natale.