Bergamo (Italy) (AFP) – Salernitana maintained their bold bid for Serie A survival on Monday with a 1-1 draw at Atalanta which pulled them closer to safety.

Mario Pasalic’s 88th-minute leveller denied Salernitana a fourth straight win after Ederson had poked the away side ahead just before the half hour but the draw moved them to within two points of Cagliari, who sit just outside the relegation zone.

Davide Nicola’s team host Cagliari this coming Sunday after playing their game in hand with bottom side Venezia on Thursday.

“I’m completely in love with these boys, they keep surprising me with the effort they put in,” sad Nicola to DAZN.

Fans packed into the away end applauded their team off the pitch after their long trip to the far north of Italy was rewarded with a spirited performance.

Atalanta keeper Juna Musso did well to keep out efforts from Emil Bohinen and Lassana Coulibaly early in the second half but Salernitana tired and crumbled late on in the face of persistent attacks from the home side.

“I can’t argue with the draw as it was a fair result but I would have liked to see what would have happened had we scored one of the chances we created,” added Nicola. 

Atalanta showed why they have only won four times at home all season and were saved from an embarrassing defeat by Croat Pasalic’s low drive.

Gian Piero Gasperini’s side sit eighth and are struggling for a place in Europe next season after looking like title challengers before the turn of the year.

– Nicola’s Pope pledge –

Before their recent unbeaten run Salernitana had been rooted to the bottom of Serie A for almost the entire season, and should Salernitana stay up it would be the second miracle escape act of coach Nicola’s career after he saved Crotone five years ago.

Under his charge Crotone won six of their last nine matches of the 2016/17 season, losing just one, and climbed out of the drop zone on the final day of the campaign.

Nicola had promised he would cycle the length of Italy to his hometown of Turin should his team stay up and he was as good as his word, making the 1,300 kilometre (808 mile) trip from the deep southern region of Calabria to Piedmont in the far north-west.

This time the 49-year-old has an even more outlandish pledge to fulfil, as he will walk to Rome to meet the Pope if he manages to kept his team up.

And he has a real chance of saving a team which in December looked like it might be kicked out of the league as the club struggled to find a new owner.

In June Salernitana were placed in trust as Lazio president Claudio Lotito owned the club and Italian FA rules banned ownership of two teams in the same division.

Given a New Year’s Eve deadline to find a new owner or be booted out, Salernitana were saved at the last minute when Danilo Iervolino’s bid to buy the club was accepted.