Sampdoria heaped more misery on Roma with a 2-1 victory in Genoa today that inflicted a blow to the Romans' title chances. Four games from the end of last season, then league leaders Roma lost by the same score at home to Samp to hand the title initiative back to Inter Milan, who didn't relinquish it.
But this time it was a hapless performance from Brazilian centre-back Juan and a calamitous error from goalkeeper Julio Sergio that proved the catalyst for Roma's demise. After Mirko Vucinic had given them a first half lead, Sergio was dismissed for a professional foul with Nicola Pozzi ramming home the resultant penalty and Stefano Guberti notching a late winner. But Juan was at fault for both goals.
Guberti admitted he was delighted to get one over his former employers. "We started well but then we struggled. The penalty changed the game and we improved," he said. "I'm delighted, I really wanted to do well against Roma, I was there last year and in the summer. It's great to score against a former team and I left because I couldn't get in the team."
Roma coach Claudio Ranieri pointed the finger of blame at Juan. "It's a shame, we played a great game but then there were these two huge errors by Juan, two huge mistakes by a great player," he said. "This can happen. We won't lie down, we'll bounce back."
And Ranieri also criticised Sergio for getting himself sent-off. "(Angelo) Palombo took the ball forwards, (Sergio) should have stopped and avoided giving away a penalty and a red card. But it's a goalkeeper's instinct to put his arms out."
Samp actually finished the game with nine men as both Stefan Luchhini and Daniele Gastaldello were given their matrching orders in the dying seconds. The defeat leaves Roma seven points behind leaders AC Milan, but having played a game more.
Sampdoria put Roma under the cosh from the off but failed to capitalise on their early domination, Pozzi volleying wide with their best chance of the opening exchanges.
Roma went in front on 17 minutes but when Vucinic picked up the ball on the halfway line, there appeared little danger. Samp's defenders were back in numbers but were guilty of backing off until the Montenegrin approached the penalty area, where he skipped past Lucchini and beat goalkeeper Gianluca Curci from a difficult angle.
If Curci was partially at fault for the goal, he made amends with a first-class save to deny Marco Borriello, whose low shot appeared destined for the bottom corner until Curci tipped it around the post.
Samp started the second half much as they did the first and Guido Marilungo should have done better when presented a chance from 18 yards but he wasted time letting the ball roll across his body so he could strike it with his right foot and his effort was blocked.
However, on 55 minutes Roma went into self-destruct mode. Substitute Juan played a woefully underhit back-pass that put Angelo Palombo in one-on-one with Sergio.The Italy midfielder took the ball around the Brazilian goalkeeper who inexplicably clattered into him long after the ball had gone. The referee predictably pointed to the spot and showed Sergio a straight red.
Roma coach Claudio Ranieri sacrificed French playmaker Jeremy Menez to bring on substitute goalkeeper Doni, whose first action was to be beaten by Pozzi's rasping spot-kick. Although Samp continued to press it was Roma who came close on 62 minutes as Vucinic shot wide of the near post from an angle.
On-loan Manchester United forward Federico Macheda came on to make his Samp debut and was quickly involved. He played Giampaolo Pazzini in behind the Roma defence but Doni was quickly off his line to smother the danger. And moments later Macheda missed an attempted diving header from six yards as Luciano Zauri picked him out from the right.
However it was another mistake by Juan that presented Samp with the winner as he miscontrolled the ball in the area allowing Guberti to nip in and nutmeg Doni from a tight angle six minutes from time.