Ten-man SS Lazio thrust themselves back into title contention with a stunning come-from-behind 3-2 victory over Cesena at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome on Thursday.
The Biancoceleste turned around at the break 2-0 down and with a numerical disadvantage, but a remarkable 10-minute period just after the restart flipped their fortunes around.
Strike pairing Adrian Mutu and Vincenzo Iaquinta, from the spot, had given Cesena a seemingly unassailable halftime lead, particularly given Abdoulay Konko had been sent off for the hosts, but goals from Hernanes, Senad Lulic and Libor Kozak turned the match on its head and moved Lazio up to third, temporarily at least.
“It’s a great win for us, it’s always very hard to be 2-0 down and playing with 10 men,” said match-winner Kozak, who was making his comeback after injury. “I’m happy to be back in and to have scored an important goal, my first in the league.”
Lazio now trail leaders Juventus by just three points, although they have played more games than all their immediate rivals.
Coach Edy Reja said the victory felt like a derby success over AS Roma.
“This win is as great as winning the derby. We didn’t have any centerforwards, but we did well in reorganizing after the break,” Reja said. “I wouldn’t know who to name as man of the match, everyone played well and now I hope to get some injured players back.”
Until their stirring comeback, Lazio had been staring at a possible fourth defeat in seven league games since the turn of the year.
Things had started so well, with the hosts dominating the early exchanges and hot-shot Miroslav Klose twice uncharacteristically failing to find the net from good positions.
Lulic played in Klose, but Francesco Antonioli was out quickly to deflect the German’s shot past the post.
Then he latched onto Cristian Ledesma’s chipped ball over the top, but while his chest control was precise, his finish drifted past the far upright.
In between, Iaquinta had given notice of the trouble he would cause when forcing Federico Marchetti into a sprawling save at his near post from a lashed effort and moments later the former Italy forward held off Giuseppe Biava and crossed for Mutu to slot home at the back post with Lazio’s defense hopelessly stretched.
The match seemed to have taken a decisive turn just past the half-hour mark when Mutu was sent scampering away behind the Lazio defense. Konko caught up to him, but slid in with an ill-advised attempt at a tackle, succeeding only in bringing down the Romanian.
The referee had no option but to point to the spot and he also brandished the red card as the Frenchman was the last defender.
Iaquinta’s penalty was unceremoniously dispatched.
The game appeared over, but within 18 minutes of the restart, Lazio had totally turned the game around.
Brazilian playmaker Hernanes thrashed home a fierce shot on the turn from the edge of the box on 52 minutes. Then right on the hour mark, Klose headed the ball over the defense and although Kozak’s control was awful, the ball fell to Lulic, who slotted home despite Antonioli getting a touch.
Then just two minutes after that, a Lazio corner caused a mass scrum in the box and Kozak proved the most determined, striding onto the ball to lash past Antonioli at his near post.