Mon, Feb 20, 2017 - Page 12 News List

Keita Balde keeps SS Lazio’s Europa hopes ticking over

AFP, MILAN, Italy

Senegal striker Keita Balde on Saturday came off the bench to hit a late winner in a 2-1 defeat of Empoli that boosted SS Lazio’s Europa League hopes.

Lazio were in fifth place, 16 points behind leaders Juventus, who saw Paulo Dybala hit a brace in a 4-1 win over former club US Citta di Palermo on Friday to stretch the Turin giants’ Serie A lead over AS Roma to 10 points ahead of the rest of the weekend’s games.

Simone Inzaghi’s Lazio are one of several sides looking to secure at least a top-five finish and an automatic place in the Europa League.

“We’re up there and we want to stay here,” Inzaghi told Sky Sport. “The fans really gave us their support and I think we paid them back because we saw a good performance tonight.”

“The only negative aspect was not scoring in the first half when we had a few chances,” he said. “As so often happens, you pay for those misses, but the lads did well to pull it back and claim the victory.”

Lazio were under pressure to keep pace after unheralded Atalanta BC, in fourth, maintained their purple patch with a 1-0 home win over struggling Crotone.

Empoli were in no mood to give up their fight to stay away from the relegation zone. Giovanni Martusciello’s side are a notoriously tough nut to crack at their Stadio Carlo Castellani, where a candidate for goal of the season was missed when Manuel Pucciarelli’s volley edged just over Thomas Strakosha’s crossbar.

At the other end, Lazio striker Ciro Immobile stung Lukasz Skorupski’s gloves and saw an angled drive finger-tipped around the base of the upright.

When sent clear on a through ball, Felipe Anderson scuffed his finish with the goal at his mercy. Skorupski had to perform heroics to keep out Marco Parolo’s daring shot from distance, then produced a great one-handed save on an Immobile cutback from the by-line as Anderson lurked in front of goal.

It took until halfway through the second period for the deadlock to be broken.

Rade Krunic had the home fans in raptures with a drive whose swerve in flight gave a diving Strakosha no chance.

However, their joy was short-lived.

Anderson’s cross was deflected and Immobile, spotting the opportunity, held off his maker on the edge of the box to expertly poke the ball past Skorupski.

Balde, recently targeted by “ultra” fans, replaced Milinkovic-Savic just before the hour, but needed a slice of luck to clinch Lazio’s 80th-minute winner.

A through-ball by Anderson came off an Empoli body and Keita pounced to fire a deflected volley past Skorupski.

Empoli’ own the league’s worst goals record, having now scored just 15 in 25 outings, but Martusciello said: “If you look at the league it’s true we haven’t scored a lot, but more than anything we’ve wasted a lot of the chances we created. I would be far more worried if we weren’t creating anything.”

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