MILAN, Italy, Apr 22 – Roma warmed up for next week’s Champions League clash with Liverpool by easing past SPAL 3-0 on Saturday but AC Milan’s European hopes took a knock with a shock 1-0 defeat against tailenders Benevento.
Benevento had earned their first ever Serie A point last December in Naples in Milan coach Gennaro Gattuso’s first game in charge when goalkeeper Alberto Brignoli scored an injury-time equaliser.
But Saturday’s defeat at the San Siro is more devastating for the former European giants whose sixth position and Europa League berth is now threatened by Atalanta — two points behind — who play Torino on Sunday.
“When you play without soul, you get embarrassed like this,” said an angry Gattuso.
“We have to apologise to the fans, because we wear a prestigious jersey and we can’t have embarrassing nights like this.”
Pietro Iemmello’s 29th minute strike was enough to seal all three points for the southerners, who were down to ten men after Cheick Diabate’s sending off.
It gave Roberto De Zerbi’s side just their fifth win of the campaign, and first away victory.
However, it merely delays their probable relegation from Serie A as they are still 12 points from safety with five games to play.
Franck Kessie came closest to an equaliser on the hour mark when he rattled the crossbar, with Patrick Cutrone also heading wide on 74 minutes.
Benevento’s top scorer Diabate came on in place of Iemmello after an hour but was sent off ten minutes before the end.
But still Milan could not take advantage of their extra man, becoming the first team to fail to beat Benevento this season.
“Today a little Benevento proved you can be great with heart and the desire to play football,” said goalkeeper Christian Puggioni.
– ‘Step in right direction’ –
Earlier Roma eased past SPAL three days before the Champions League semi-final first leg against Liverpool at Anfield.
Eusebio Di Francesco’s Romans have 67 points from 34 games — three ahead of city rivals Lazio who can pull level again when they host Sampdoria on Sunday.
“The performance was excellent,” said Di Francesco.
“The team’s attitude three days before such an important match with Liverpool is an important step in the right direction.
“This is a side that has great goals in its head, a team that looks at the present and not the future, and it’s a moment of great satisfaction for me.”
A Francesco Vicari own goal gave Roma a first-half lead in Ferrara with Radja Nainggolan and Patrik Schick adding two more in an eight-minute spell in the second half.
SPAL fell to their first defeat in nine games leaving their top-flight survival increasingly in doubt as they sit just one point above the relegation zone.
Di Francesco rotated his side ahead of Tuesday’s trip to Anfield with Argentinian left-back Jonathan Silva getting his first start since his January signing.
Roma’s top scorer Edin Dzeko stayed on the bench alongside captain Daniele De Rossi with the visitors missing three chances in the first half — Stephan El Shaarawy misfiring twice and Lorenzo Pellegrini also missing a third opportunity.
Pellegrini contributed to the opener, crossing a low ball into the area as Vicari turned into his own net when trying to anticipate Kevin Strootman in a scramble in front of goal.
But Nainggolan — wearing the captain’s armband and one of many Serie A players to smudge a red streak on his cheek in support of a campaign against violence against women — missed a chance for a second sending the ball into the side netting just before the break.
But seven minutes into the second half the Belgian sent a diagonal half-volley into the bottom corner, with Pellegrini setting up Schick to head in the third on the hour mark.
It was the first goal for Czech forward Schick since he joined Roma on loan from Sampdoria last August.
Fiorentina fell to a 1-0 defeat at lowly Sassuolo, to stay three points behind AC Milan and the Europa League berths.
Champions Juventus and second-placed Napoli go head-to-head Sunday in a clash which could decide the Serie A title.