Napoli continued their positive streak by making short work of Palermo thanks to Marek Hamsik’s strike and a controversial Edinson Cavani penalty.
The Partenopei were in joint third place along with Inter, Lazio and Udinese, so needed to keep up their recent improvement in form to stay there. Hugo Campagnaro, Marco Donadel and the suspended Blerim Dzemaili missed out, while Ezequiel Lavezzi was only fit for the bench, so Goran Pandev supported ex-Rosanero star Edinson Cavani. Palermo were relatively comfortable in mid-table, though not mathematically safe yet, and had to do without Fabrizio Miccoli, Andrea Mantovani, Federico Balzaretti and Francesco Della Rocca.
The Rosanero had not won here since a 1979 Coppa Italia tie, earning four draws and as many defeats in all competition. Their most recent Serie A victory at the San Paolo was way back in December 1951.
Napoli rattled the frame of the goal with their first chance after five minutes, as Pandev went wide and left it for Gokhan Inler to smash against the bar from the edge of the box.
Moments later Palermo had two sensational opportunities to go in front. Morgan De Sanctis parried a Josip Ilicic shot with his foot from nine yards, then the move continued and the goalkeeper got down to beat an Abel Hernandez diving header off the line.
The referee pointed to the spot when Milanovic came sliding in and charged down a Pandev cross with his arm, but as the ball bounced off his leg first, it should not have been considered a voluntary gesture. Palermo were furious, but Cavani stepped up and buried the powerful penalty into the near bottom corner.
Cavani ran on to a Pandev chipped pass to pull back from the by-line, but Eros Pisano came sliding in to disturb Camilo Zuniga at the back post.
De Sanctis missed a corner and Napoli were fortunate no Palermo players were able to get the final touch in the six-yard box.
Marek Hamsik doubled Napoli’s lead with a well-worked move, as Pandev had his back to goal, but was still able to flick on for the run of his Slovak teammate who fired low past Emiliano Viviano.
Ilicic ran on to a fine Massimo Donati pass and his first touch helped take him past Salvatore Aronica, but Paolo Cannavaro came sliding in with a decisive tackle inside the box.
Pandev almost managed to turn in the box when surrounded by defenders by flicking up the ball, but was eventually crowded out. Hernandez tried from distance, but did not catch De Sanctis unawares.
Ilicic failed to run off a knock and had to make way for Agon Mehmeti after the restart. Cavani went clear on the counter-attack from another inspired Pandev pass only to horribly scuff his finish well wide across the face of goal with only Viviano to beat.
After a corner Hamsik whipped a cross towards the back post, where Cannavaro at full stretch just failed to make contact.
Palermo threatened when Barreto completed a give-and-go to pull back for Eran Zahavi, but the finish was ballooned over the bar.
The Sicilians thought they had pulled one back on 72 minutes when Abel Hernandez pounced on a Christian Maggio defensive error and the ball was prodded back into his path to put into the net. However, it was flagged offside and is not entirely clear whether the final pass came from a Napoli or Palermo player.
The visitors were by no means out of this game yet and De Sanctis got down well to palm away a long-range Zahavi snapshot.
Lavezzi came off the bench and immediately sparked a rapid counter from Palermo’s set play in their own half, Cavani rolling across for Pocho only for Viviano to intercept from point-blank range with an outstretched foot.
In stoppages Giulio Migliaccio went in with a very clumsy tackle on Cavani, but the referee waved away penalty appeals.