Bologna held out to beat Cagliari 1-0 on Thursday night after Alessandro Diamanti’s free-kick, even as the Sardinians had several chances to equalise.
Bologna went into the home fixture with just the one win to their name from the previous six games played and having slipped from the top half of the table down to 15th at kick-off.
Having suffered with tonsillitis during the week, Gaston Ramirez was passed fit to start only to make the bench, alongside expected replacement Panagiotis Kone, with Henry Gimenez starting instead. Robert Acquafresca was handed a start against his old team in place of the suspended Marco Di Vaio, whilst Archimede Morleo pipped Matteo Rubin to the left-back role and Nico Pulzetti took right-back instead of Gyorgy Garics.
Cagliari, meanwhile, arrived one point and two places above the Felsinei in the table, but like their hosts, without their main striker to play. Mauricio Pinilla was suspended for his red card picked up against Inter at the weekend, but where training suggested Moestafa El Kabir would be fit to return in his place, Massimo Ficcadenti partnered Thiago Ribeiro with Joaquin Larrivey in attack.
Cagliari were undefeated from their last three trips to the Stadio Renato Dall’Ara, boasting two away wins and a draw from recent seasons against Bologna.
Both sides knew that a win in this game would see them reach or pass the 40-point mark generally signposted as enough to secure League survival.
A quiet start to proceedings was briefly lit up by Albin Ekdal’s run through the middle and pass out to Ribeiro, whose low cross into the Bologna box briefly caused panic, before Andrea Raggi cleared.
Minutes later at the other end, Acquafresca had the first clear site at goal, bringing out a save from Agazzi with a low shot from the left outside corner of the penalty area.
The former Cagliari man Acquafresca was flagged offside on 13 minutes for casually straying out of position when Bologna otherwise had a two-on-one opportunity against Agazzi, after Cagliari’s defence had been caught dwelling on the ball.
Soon after, Daniele Conti picked up his 11th yellow card of the season for a deliberate pull of Alessandro Diamanti’s shirt in the centre-circle, as the home side threatened a promising counter-attack.
A delicate cross into Bologna’s area from Andrea Cossu almost found Larrivey for a finish six yards out, but his first touch took the ball into Jean-Francois Gillet’s hands, whilst a minute or so later, a coming together with Pulzetti saw Larrivey briefly appeal for a penalty.
Cagliari almost took the lead through bizarre circumstances, as a Cossu corner was intially headed out by Acquafresca, only for a ricochet off of Daniele Portanova causing Gillet to take action to catch the ball between his posts.
Following that which livened up the game, at the other end Diamanti’s low shot drew an excellent one-handed save from Agazzi.
Gillet almost carried the ball out of the penalty area 10 minutes before half-time, as after collecting a corner, a last minute decision to not clear the ball quickly almost saw his momentum carry him outside his markings.
Larrivey had an excellent chance to open the scoring, having made a clever run in open play to the near post to lose his marker, but he pulled an eventual free header 10 yards from goal wide of the mark.
Michele Canini was caught in an uncomfortable moment, bringing down Acquafresca for a yellow card. But for the covering run from a teammate, it would have been a straight red for the defender.
Diamanti’s long-range effort brought about a roar from the crowd and a great save from Agazzi moments before half-time.
Pulzetti had the first chance of the second half, becoming the latest Bologna man to draw a solid save out of Agazzi. The chance opened up to the right-back after good work by Morleo on the other flank had found him unmarked in the box.
Moments later, Conti at the other end had a very similar attempt for Cagliari, with Gillet tipping his central and high shot over from 12 yards out.
Diamanti opened the scoring in spectacular fashion as he whipped a central free-kick from 35 yards out over the Cagliari wall and beyond Agazzi’s reach high into the left-hand side of the net. The playmaker removed his shirt in celebrating and was promptly booked.
Route one football almost brought about an equaliser inside five minutes. A free-kick taken by Agazzi in one penalty area took one bounce to evade the entire Bologna team and set Cossu free into the other penalty area, only for the No 7 be denied by a smart save by Gillet.
Acquafresca went very close with Bologna’s next free-kick, this time finding the side-netting with a low shot to Agazzi’s near post from the right side of the pitch.
Cherubin’s mix-up when running back to his own goal forced Gillet to clumsily clear the ball right into Ribeiro’s path, but the striker pulled his side-footed effort wide of the post from 15 yards out.
At the other end, Acquafresca equally pulled a good chance wide, after substitute Ramirez put him through with a neat through-ball.
Gillet was beaten by Larrivey header from a corner with 20 minutes left, but the Argentine saw his effort rebound off the bar and back into play. Larrivey had troubled Bologna all night from set-play situations.
A run and shot from Ibarbo saw the Colombian only find the side-netting, but it had Gillet scrambling across.
A combination of Cagliari’s pressing and slips by more than one Bologna defender saw Larrivey ghost into the penalty area, but his decision to square the ball rather than shoot played into the home side’s favour. In that move, Gillet received a hefty blow to the ribs from substitute Frederik Sorensen that required treatment.
With five minutes of normal time remaining, Pioli was dismissed from the Bologna bench after he took his protests over the award of a Cagliari free-kick too far with the fourth official. As he was walking off, with the free-kick being set up, Davide Astori clashed in the penalty area with Gaby Mudingayi. The latter was booked for the incident, but Astori, already on a yellow, escaped unpunished.
Larrivey had a late half-chance to equalise, before Radja Nainggolan threatened to get himself sent off. First with a slight elbow to prevent a Bologna counter-attack earned him a yellow, before he followed that with a kick out at an opponent that prompted players and benches from both teams to get involved, but the referee he did not issue the Belgian a second yellow.