Mirko Vucinic scored twice as Juventus extended their lead at the top of Serie A courtesy of a 2-1 win against bottom club Pescara at the Juventus Stadium.
Ivan Pelizzoli’s imperious first-half form denied the league leaders the lead their play merited with a number of exceptional stops but Vucinic finally beat Pelizzoli in the 72nd minute from the penalty spot. His bizarre celebration, in which he removed his shorts and waved them over his head, earned him a booking, and his coach Antonio Conte was less than impressed.
The Montenegrin doubled his side’s advantage a further six minutes later with a smart finish as it looked like the hosts would streak away following the sending off of Giuseppe Rizzo for his part in the penalty.
However, Emmanuel Cascione halved the deficit with a strike of supreme quality with 83 minutes gone to ensure a tense finish but Juve’s numerical advantage paid dividends as they held out for the win.
Conte rang the changes from his side’s chastening midweek defeat against Bayern Munich in the Champions League for the visit of the league’s bottom side, Pescara.
Giorgio Chiellini and Andrea Barzagli were suspended, while Gigi Buffon was suffering from flu and was replaced in goal by Marco Storari. Vucinic partnered Sebastian Giovinco up front with Paul Pogba dictating the tempo in midfield.
Christian Bucchi, whose side had lost 12 of 14 matches in 2013, was without injured Vladimir Weiss, Luciano Zauri, and Gaetano D’Agostino as they set about clawing back the six points that cuts them adrift of safety.
Conte’s men, whose 2-1 Derby d’Italia victory last weekend retained their nine point advantage in the race for the Scudetto, predictably began in the ascendancy but found Ivan Pelizzoli in exceptional form as he denied the hosts the lead with some outstanding goalkeeping.
Amongst his numerous first-half saves, two were of particular quality. A close-range stop from Arturo Vidal midway through the first half was only bettered by a full-length tip around the post from Emanuele Giaccherini in the penultimate minute of the half as the Bianconeri peppered his goal in a dominant first-half display.
Such was Juve’s dominance, Pescara failed to muster a single shot – on or off target – during the first period but Pelizzoli had ensured they were still in the contest at the interval with a commanding display.
Juve had lost Giovinco to a first-half injury and his replacement Fabio Quagliarella almost opened the scoring in the opening minutes of the second half but he again found Pelizzoli in stubborn form as he turned the instinctive volley over the bar.
The Bianconeri dominance continued but a combination of their profligacy – Vucinic contrived to miss an open goal early in the second half - and Pelizzoli’s expertise meant that the hosts had to wait until the 72 minute to take the lead when Rozzi tugged Vidal's shirt in the box.
Vucinic found the bottom corner and just out of the reach of Pelizzoli and soon made it a double when he turned sharply and fired into the bottom corner to almost certainly secure all three points with 78 minutes on the clock.
Yet, the league’s bottom side fought valiantly and their dogged determination was rewarded in the shape of a wonderful Cascione strike with seven minutes remaining
Giuseppe Sculli then illustrated the fragility of a one goal advantage in the final moments when he stung the palms of Storari from distance, but Juve held out for the win that puts the Scudetto within touching distance.
In the late game, Rolando Bianchi came off the bench to salvage a 2-2 draw for Torino against Bologna at Stadio Dall'Ara.
Torino had taken the lead through a Paulo Barreto header in the 25th minute following a quick break before Panagiotis Kone levelled things up with a back post header of his own with 65 minutes gone.
Tiberio Guarente looked like he had secured all three points with a rasping drive inside the last five minutes but Bianchi reacted quickest to a deflected cross in the final added on minute to secure a point.