Milan (AFP) – Lorenzo Insigne hit a brace as Napoli survived a late fightback by Empoli to claim a 3-2 win on Sunday that moved them up to second in Serie A seven points behind Juventus.
Napoli looked on their way to an easy but maiden win at the Carlo Castellani stadium after Insigne struck twice, once from the spot, and Dries Mertens added a third before half-time.
But the visitors, who had managed just four draws from seven previous visits, were made to endure a nervous finale before claiming a 19th win of the campaign that maintained hopes of Champions League football next season.
Leaders Juventus, bidding for a record sixth consecutive title, sit seven points ahead but can stretch their lead over Napoli to 10 points with a win at Sampdoria later Sunday.
Roma host Sassuolo in the late game when they will be looking to reclaim second spot from Napoli, having dropped to third at one point further behind.
Despite scoring only 15 goals all season — seven less than Serie A’s leading scorer Andrea Belotti of Torino — Empoli gave a warm welcome to former coach Maurizio Sarri.
But the warm feelings extended to the visitors ended after just a few minutes.
Napoli won a soft penalty following Andrea Costa’s clumsy challenge on Mertens, who saw his soft shot parried by Lukasz Skorupski’s outstretched foot.
A rampant Napoli broke the deadlock on 19 minutes when Insigne fired Mertens’ nod-down in the area past Skorupski at his near post.
Mertens doubled their lead minutes later with a superbly-struck free kick from outside the area that beat Skorupski at his near top corner.
Napoli won a second penalty when Jose Callejon was tripped in the area just after the half hour, and this time Insigne made no mistake, firing past Skorupski down low from the spot.
The visitors were made to suffer in the second half, Omar El Kaddouri beating Pepe Reina with a free kick down low 70 minutes before captain Massimo Maccarone beat the Spanish ‘keeper from the spot eight minutes from the end.
But Napoli held on to leave Empoli just seven points above the relegation zone.