A spirited Novara earned a hard-fought three points in beating Lazio at the Stadio Silvio Piola, thanks in part to a fantastic Giuseppe Mascara free-kick.
Battling the threat of relegation, Novara went into this midweek lunchtime fixture aware that a draw or a defeat coupled with results elsewhere going against them would see their immediate return to Serie B mathematically confirmed. At the same time, visitors Lazio knew that three points would temporarily extend their lead on the chasing pack for third place to six points. This was the Aquile’s first visit to the Piedmont side since 1972, when the two sides met in Serie B.
Attilio Tesser rang the changes for the Azzurri, replacing Matteo Centurioni, Giuseppe Gemiti, Ivan Radovanovic, Daniel Jensen and Giuseppe Mascara with Santiago Garcia, Simone Pesce, Marco Rigoni, Andrea Mazzarani and Takayuki Morimoto.
The visiting Romans, meanwhile, went into the game without Cristian Brocchi, Marius Stankevicius, Hernanes, Miroslav Klose, Stefan Radu and Senad Lulic through injury, whilst Alvaro Gonzalez was absent for personal reasons and Matuzalem could only make the bench after struggling with a recent knock. Libor Kozak partnered Tommaso Rocchi in attack, whilst Loik Cana came into midfield.
Within the opening seconds of play Antonio Candreva almost broke through on to a through-ball, forcing Alberto Fontana into an early scramble off his line to collect the ball. Soon after that midfielder Cana had the first sight at goal, but dragged his effort wide of Fontana’s left post.
At the other end, Lionel Scaloni was forced into a scruffy clearance yards from his own line after a Filippo Porcari cross proved a real test to the Lazio back-line. The Aquile responded, with Kozak almost working an opportunity from a similar cross from, but the targetman stumbled upon controlling the ball four yards from Novara’s goal.
The Czech forward then provided a warning to Novara’s defence, latching on to a Stefano Mauri dinked ball into the box, only to see his header go a yard wide of the post and for him to be flagged offside. A few minutes later, Kozak was again in space and otherwise through on goal but for another offside flag, this time from a similar lofted pass from Cristian Ledesma.
In between these two instances, centre-back Andrea Lisuzzo had forced Federico Marchetti in to a low save in the centre of his goal, after a drilling a 25-yard free-kick around the Lazio wall.
The home side took a shock lead 10 minutes before the break when a Mazzarani cross caught Modibo Diakite wrong-footed. Mistiming his clearance, the ball deflected off the centre-back’s standing leg to bobble into the net past a stretched Marchetti.
However, the lead lasted all of a minute when Fontana failed to push away a fierce Mauri shot and Antonio Candreva headed in the rebound. Amazingly it could have been 2-1 to Lazio a minute after that, when Kozak forced a low block from the ‘keeper after Rocchi had put him through.
The game had opened up as Lazio pressed forward and a break down the other end saw Morimoto force a low save from Marchetti. Novara had the next opportunity too, as a Caracciolo shot was deflected just over the bar by a quick Rigoni header.
The half ended with Lazio camped in Novara’s half, but the closest they came to a goal was efforts by Candreva, Ledesma and Cana but all were pulled wide, with the latter’s header a big opportunity to score.
A Morimoto shot bounced awkwardly in front of Marchetti to test his alertness in the opening exchanges of the second half, just as Paci woke Candreva up with a yellow-card challenge from behind in front of an incensed Lazio bench.
In a quieter second period, a looping cross from Scaloni almost caught Fontana out at his back post as he misjudged its flight to concede a corner. From that set-piece, Lazio then thought they had taken the lead, only for the assistant referee to rule out Kozak’s toe-poked finish from a few yards for offside. The decision took a while to be made, much to Lazio’s frustration, but replays proved it to be correct.
That woke Novara up and they almost scored themselves a minute later through Rigoni’s run and shot that forced Marchetti into a near-post stop. Rigoni then skied a later chance high over the bar, after neat work from Morganella down the right flank.
An almost identical chance fell to Mauri at the other end soon after, as a run and cross from the left from substitute Emiliano Alfaro found the No 6 unmarked in the box, only for him to lift his effort high and wide.
Lazio had half-hearted penalty appeals turned down 15 muinutes from the end, as a Candreva free-kick appeared to strike a hand. From the subsequent corner awarded, Alfaro brought about a good reaction save from Fontana to tip over his on-target headed effort.
Two substitutes had an impact in Novara taking the lead for a second time. Matuzalem’s first action for Lazio was to give away a free-kick on the edge of his area that Giuseppe Mascara converted perfectly into Marchetti’s top left-hand corner.
Caracciolo had a half-chance to make it 3-1 soon after, but his effort was hit straight at Marchetti, whilst Andre Dias had a great chance to equalise from a set-piece but he smashed a header straight at Fontana.
Lazio pressed forward in the dying minutes for a second goal, with a 40-yard Ledesma free-kick drifted into the box almost evading everyone to creep into the far post, only for Fontana to make the save. It proved to be the Aquile’s best chance in stoppage time, as they ultimately failed to break through.