Milan (AFP) – Radja Nainggolan came to the rescue after another Edin Dzeko penalty miss as Roma kept the pressure on Serie A leaders Juventus with a hard-fought 2-0 win at plucky Crotone on Sunday.
Roma’s 17th win of the campaign moved Luciano Spalletti’s men back up to second spot to close the gap to four points, although Juventus can restore their seven-point lead with a win at Cagliari in Sunday’s late game.
Napoli sit third two points further off the pace following a 2-0 win over Genoa on Friday.
With the return of Mohamed Salah from the African Nations Cup duty with beaten finalists Egypt, Spalletti left Roma icon Francesco Totti at home for the trip to Crotone.
But it took less than 20 minutes for Totti’s absence, and his clinical penalty-taking, to be felt.
Roma won a soft penalty when Salah tumbled under a nudge from Gian Marco Ferrari, and Crotone’s fans probably felt justice had been done when Dzeko stepped up to fire a soft effort wide of the near post.
Dzeko has taken two penalties in Serie A this season, and missed both.
Crotone, who have never been out of the bottom three all season, kept the game ticking over, Aleksander Tonev replying to a Salah header that sailed a metre over with a snapshot that forced Wojciech Szczesny into action.
But Roma broke the deadlock five minutes before half-time, Salah setting up Nainggolan inside the area for the Belgian to beat Alex Cordaz with a bobbling, angled shot from 12 yards.
Crotone were in uproar after referee Carmine Russo blew the whistle for half-time without any extra time, as they were preparing a free kick.
The Calabrians were angered again just before the hour when Diego Falcinelli saw his goal chalked off for offside.
But before then, Roma had hit the woodwork twice, Dzeko’s deflected shot clipping the bar before a header from Federico Fazio came off the post.
Spalletti’s men put the match beyond doubt in the 77th minute, Dzeko making amends for his earlier blunder by firing first-time past Cordaz at the back post from Salah’s well-earned cutback.