Four-star Empoli punish Napoli

Last year’s Serie B runners-up have defied their lowly league position to play some of the most entertaining football in Italy this term and Thursday night saw them thoroughly outperform Rafael Benitez’s free-scoring Napoli.

Granted, they only fashioned two goals themselves – through Massimo Maccarone and Riccardo Saponara – with two own goals boosting a side who have now climbed to 14th in the table.

Miguel Britos and substitute Raul Albiol put through their own net for Napoli, who were themselves helped out by an own goal from Vincent Laurini before Marek Hamsik fired home a late screamer.

With five games of the Serie A season remaining, fourth-placed Napoli are five points behind Roma.

The casual observer might guess Empoli were the team gunning for European football as the Tuscans took the initiative from the off.

They might have scored through Manuel Pucciarelli in the fifth minute, his shot from the centre of the box taking a deflection and bouncing wide, but the opener would come three minutes later.

Maccarone rolled back the years, controlling the ball in the area before leaving Mariano Andujar rooted to the spot with a powerful right-footed finish.

Napoli tried to respond through Dries Mertens, whose attempt from distance went out for a corner, and Gokhan Inler, with the Turk getting Luigi Sepe working with a speculative strike.

The Empoli goalkeeper smothered Jose Callejon’s angled drive in the 26th minute and Napoli would come no closer to scoring before the break.

Maurizio Sarri’s men had two more goals in them, however.

First, Saponara’s stabbed cross from the byline forced Andujar to punch the ball into Britos’ face and then into the net with two minutes to go before the break.

Then, one minute into stoppage time, Saponara grabbed the third goal with a scissor kick after Andujar had flicked Pucciarelli’s effort back into play.

Empoli were less rampant when play resumed and Napoli played a patient game of wearing their hosts down before launching their comeback.

They clawed a goal back in the 64th minute as Hamsik’s close-range shot bounced off Sepe and looped into the net off the unfortunate Laurini.

Nerves were frayed in the Empoli defence when Christian Maggio went close to narrowing the deficit to a single goal with a good effort off his left boot in the 80th minute – but there would be another twist in the tale.

A third own goal of the evening boosted the promoted side into a three-goal lead, with Albiol the man to slice the ball past Andujar from a Mirko Valdifiori corner.

One minute into stoppage time Hamsik did produce the best goal of the game in the shape of a swerving screamer that nestled inside the near post, but time was not on the southerners’ side.

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