Brazilian forward Julio Baptista scored the winner five minutes after the break as AS Roma gave their season a welcome boost with a crucial 1-0 derby victory over ten-man Lazio on Sunday. Roma began the match only goal difference above the Serie A drop zone after a dreadful start to their season which had seen them win only twice in ten games.
To make matters worse, their bitter city rivals have been operating at the other end of the table this term and victory would have seen them go third. The importance of this victory in terms of confidence and morale was not lost on Baptista. "That was an important victory which means that this team can go forward. We're feeling stronger. I want to help the team but the most important thing is our team spirit."
Lazio started brightly and Argentine forward Mauro Zarate hit the side-netting after a clever pass from Goran Pandev opened up the Roma defence on 18 minutes. Moments later and Juan Pablo Carrizo made a sprawling save up the other end from a diving Mirko Vucinic header.
Those were isolated moments of action before the interval but five minutes after the restart the nominal hosts were in front as Baptista found the bottom corner with a header from Francesco Totti's cross.
Lazio hit back straight away and Brazilian goalkeeper Doni was forced into a brilliant recovery save from a Zarate header. But Lazio's cause was not helped as Cristian Ledesma was sent off for a second booking midway through the second half. Even with the setback, Lazio kept pushing forward.
Pandev sent one shot from distance just wide and then Doni denied him with a great save from close in, although the Macedonia forward shot too close to the keeper. Roma also finished the game with ten men as Simone Perrotta was sent off late on for a second yellow card after which Stephan Lichtsteiner almost snatched a point with a header that went just over.
Milan close gap
Meanwhile AC Milan closed the gap at the top to a single point behind city rivals Inter Milan following a 1-0 victory over lowly Chievo. Brazilian playmaker Kaka scored the only goal of the game from the penalty spot following a controversial decision by the referee.
Kaka tumbled in the area under what looked like minimal contact when chasing a flicked Ronaldinho pass but the referee gave a foul against Simone Bentivoglio. The midfielder made no mistake from the spot and although Milan went on to dominate the rest of the game, they failed to find a way through against the team that now props up the entire division.
It leaves the Serie A table with a familiar feel to it as Milan are just one point behind Inter, 2-0 winners at Palermo on Saturday, with Juventus, who thrashed Genoa 4-1 on Thursday, in third.
"The table is starting to take shape a little more as was expected and we're happy to be there, hanging onto Inter's coat-tails," said Milan coach Carlo Ancelotti. "We controlled the game well despite some hairy moments where the defence was sitting too deep and we struggled to win back the ball. We could have put the game to bed but unfortunately we didn't manage to convert our chances."
Things did not go so well for other potential title challengers, though, as Napoli, Udinese and Fiorentina all lost. Napoli finished the game with ten men as they went down 3-1 at Atalanta.
Brazilian Ferreira Pinto gave the hosts a 62nd-minute lead before Napoli's Uruguay striker Marcelo Zalayeta was sent off. Slovakian midfielder Marek Hamsik levelled matters from the spot on 73 minutes but Thomas Manfredini crashed home a free-kick, via a wicked deflection, a minute from the end and Sergio Floccari tapped home the third in injury time.
Udinese's top-four hopes took a big hit as they lost for the second match in a row, going down 1-0 at home to previous basement sitters Reggina as Franco Brienza scored the only goal of the game. Italy under-21 hot-shot Robert Acquafresca scored the winner from the spot as Fiorentina lost 1-0 at Sardinians Cagliari.