Josip Ilicic scored one and provided assists for Andrea Petagna and Remo Freuler, as Atalanta ended Apollon Limassol’s unbeaten record 3-1.
The Orobici were top of their group after beating Everton 3-0 and earning a 1-1 draw away to Olympique Lyonnais, but the Cypriots were also unbeaten with two stalemates. Rafael Toloi was out injured, but Papu Gomez and Josip Ilicic started in a new 3-4-3 formation. Apollon had defender Valentin Roberge suspended following his red card at Goodison Park.
Once again, it was played at the Mapei Stadium due to the Stadio Azzurri d’Italia not meeting UEFA standards and 14,000 fans made the 200km trip to Reggio-Emilia.
Gomez and Ilicic drilled wide early on before Leonardo Spinazzola burst into the box down the left and rolled a perfect assist that Ilicic just had to tap in at the back post from six yards.
It was almost 2-0 moments later, Bruno Vale rushing out to smother at the feet of Remo Freuler, while Andrea Petagna was denied by a very brave Andrei Pitian block from point-blank range.
Ilicic had penalty appeals waved away when his free kick appeared to strike an arm, but it was considered involuntary.
Freuler’s deflected shot was parried at the near post with real difficulty and Hans Hateboer’s pull-back was cleared by some desperate defending.
Papu Gomez came out fighting for the second half, as within three minutes he’d forced a save and received a booking for his over-zealous pressing.
Ilicic also stung the goalkeeper’s gloves and Petagna had a great chance when he turned his marker only to be denied by Bruno Vale again at the near post.
Apollon have made a habit of comebacks against the run of play this season in the Europa League and did it again, scoring with their first real chance. A cross was floated in from the right for Maltese striker Schembri’s cushioned free header at the back post.
Gomez had an effort deflected off the bar, but on the Ilicic corner their goalkeeper finally made an error, allowing Petagna to nod in his first ever European goal.
Moments later, the Orobici consolidated their advantage with a well-worked goal. Ilicic steered a Gomez cross with his chest into the path of Remo Freuler for a precise angled drive from 12 yards.
Petagna drilled just wide with his left foot, as Atalanta took home their second win from three Europa League matches to stay top of the group.
Atalanta 3-1 Apollon
Ilicic 11 (At), Schembri 59 (Ap), Petagna 64 (At), Freuler 66 (At)
Atalanta: Berisha; Masiello, Caldara, Palomino; Hateboer, Cristante (De Roon 70), Freuler, Spinazzola; Ilicic (Cornelius 86), Petagna, Gomez (Kurtic 80)
Apollon Limassol: Bruno; Joao Pedro, Yuste, Pitian, Jander; Alef, Sacchetti, Allan (Alex 57); Jakolis, Maglica (Zelaya 56), Schembri (Sardinero 81)
Ref: Kabakov (BUL)