Lorenzo Tonelli and Manolo Gabbiadini completed a dramatic Napoli comeback to beat 10-man Sampdoria, but the red card was controversial.
The Partenopei were unbeaten since October 29 in Serie A, putting together four wins and three draws, so were eager to start 2017 on similar form. Raul Albiol was suspended with Kalidou Koulibaly, Omar El Kaddouri and Faouzi Ghoulam on Africa Cup of Nations duty, so Lorenzo Tonelli was given his debut six months after arriving from Empoli. Luis Muriel was only fit for the bench after a muscular problem, so Patrik Schick partnered native Neapolitan Fabio Quagliarella.
Sampdoria managed five draws from 12 attempts since their last victory here in 1997-98.
It was all Napoli early doors, Dries Mertens’ free kick wide and Lorenzo Insigne’s curler plucked out of the air, while the little Belgian tested Christian Puggioni at the near post.
Ricky Alvarez skimmed the crossbar with his free kick, but Sampdoria took the lead with a moment of good fortune.
Schick got away from Ivan Strinic down the right and his pull-back for Quagliarella accidentally ricocheted into the net off Elseid Hysaj as he tried to intercept from a couple of yards out.
Napoli seemed sluggish and struggled to mount a comeback, as Insigne over-hit the pass for Mertens on a promising counter and Marek Hamsik’s cross was too high for Jose Callejon.
Straight after the restart, Mertens incredibly ballooned over the bar from close range, as he pointed to a divot that made it bounce at the last moment.
Hamsik blasted wide and Matias Silvestre took a booking for the team when hauling down Mertens after a delightful flick. Samp remained dangerous on the counter and substitute Muriel set up a golden opportunity for Schick, but this time Hysaj’s intervention was decisive to prevent a goal.
Moments later there was a controversial incident, as Silvestre was shown a second yellow card for a foul on Pepe Reina. However, replays suggest there was little if any contact, as the defender was running close to the goalkeeper when he tried to hoof the ball upfield.
Mertens had scored eight goals in the final three Serie A games of 2016, but the winter break seems to have done him no good at all, because he missed another sitter when scuffing wide from 12 yards on a Callejon knock-down.
The Belgian then flicked on a corner that Tonelli just failed to get a touch to at the back post and Manolo Gabbiadini was introduced for midfielder Jorginho.
Still Muriel was very dangerous and won back possession near the corner flag to skip past two players and force Reina into a low save.
Gabbiadini scored his second goal in as many games off the bench, in the right place to prod over the line with the inside of his knee from a yard when Callejon nodded down the cross at the back post.
It turned into a siege on the Sampdoria goal and Christian Puggioni performed a desperate save on Gabbiadini from close range after an Insigne knock-down, then Insigne’s volley hit the side-netting.
Insigne flicked on an assist for Hamsik’s ferocious volley, which Puggioni remarkably beat out from under the bar, and the Italian then tried to shoot from an improbable angle after chesting down a long ball.
Pedro Pereira came sliding in to intercept a Strinic pull-back, almost scoring an own goal in stoppages.
The drama wasn’t over, as on his debut after six months on the bench, Tonelli grabbed the 95th-minute winner for Napoli. Strinic again got to the by-line and pulled back, but this time Tonelli was on the end of it and kept his cool to fire into the roof of the net from 10 yards, sparking incredible celebrations at the San Paolo.
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Sent off: Silvestre 61 (S)