Empoli are in Serie B after an extraordinary capitulation in Sicily, as already-relegated Palermo won 2-1 to keep Crotone in the top flight.
The Tuscans knew that a victory would ensure their Serie A safety regardless of the result in Calabria, because they went into the final weekend with a one-point advantage. However, Marcel Buchel and Omar El Kaddouri were suspended with Lukasz Skorupski unavailable following the sudden death of his father this week. Palermo were already relegated, but not going down without a fight and already beat Genoa here earlier this month.
Empoli were unbeaten against Palermo since a 2-0 result here in February 2008, managing four wins and three draws, home and away in all competition. The Sicilians haven’t even scored in the last five meetings.
The situation was at the very least awkward for Palermo goalkeeper Andrea Fulignati, who was born in Empoli and grew up supporting them. Yet his saves could potentially send the team down into Serie B.
Fulignati was indeed decisive in the first half, as he beat away a ferocious Rade Krunic strike from distance, then flew to fingertip a wonderful Zajc free kick out from under the bar.
Zajc failed to make the most of a great opportunity when Giancarlo Gonzalez was caught in possession.
After the restart, Diousse received a yellow card for a terrible two-footed tackle and then risked with another clumsy challenge on Alessandro Diamanti.
Massimo Maccarone should’ve given Empoli the precious lead on 56 minutes when he went clear on the counter, but instead of going for goal, the veteran tried to roll across for Mame Thiam and the chance went begging.
On the resulting corner Fulignati was again decisive with his save on Thiam. Instead, Palermo almost took the lead on 64 minutes, as Diamanti’s cross skimmed the head of Bruno Henrique.
Rade Krunic could not have gone closer, as his angled drive beat Fulignati to scrape a coat of paint off the far post.
However, it was Palermo who took the lead with a huge goal, as Ilija Nestorovski’s glancing header with 14 minutes left on the clock meant Empoli needed to score two in order to stay in Serie A.
Incredibly, it got even worse, as a Bruno Henrique pounced on a poor clearance and lobbed Pelagotti from distance to double Palermo’s lead.
It still wasn’t over, as Thiam flicked on a cross from the left and Krunic was at the back post to nod in, getting Empoli back into the game.
Moments later, Giuseppe Bellusci’s diving header skimmed the upright, but it was too late to turn this around. Empoli had an eight-point advantage only nine rounds ago and threw this away.