STADIO OLIMPICO (Rome): On a night when going alone in fourth place was the prize awaiting the victor, AS Roma and Fiorentina were both left wondering what might have been after a chaotic climax in the capital saw the game end 1-1 with two red cards on Serie A Matchday 15.
Things looked promising for Roma when Romelu Lukaku headed them in front inside five minutes, but they lost Paulo Dybala to injury and Nicola Zalewski to a red card either side of the break before Lucas Martinez Quarta equalised midway through the second half.
A frantic finale followed when Lukaku was shown a straight red in the 87th minute. The home fans were enraged by the decision, but the striker was reckless as he flew in off his feet and caught Christian Kouame on the shin.
AS Roma pleased with a point, in the end
A roar went up at the full-time whistle as the Giallorossi clung on with nine men for a point that puts them into the top four, level with Thiago Motta’s high-flying Bologna side, and one point ahead of Fiorentina and Napoli in this tightest of European races.
Another big and boisterous crowd was treated to an electric start from their side when Roma carved open Fiorentina inside six minutes with quick and intricate passing.
Dybala’s give-and-go with Bryan Cristante sent him haring into space and he surprised everyone with an instinctive outside-of-the-boot cross on his left foot to give Lukaku the simplest of tasks to head in his seventh Serie A goal of the season.
The Argentinian architect could have made it two soon after when he found space for a shot at the edge of the box, but he fluffed his lines and scuffed an effort wide.
Fiorentina’s best chance of the half should have resulted in an equaliser; Giacomo Bonaventura’s clever dinked pass sent M’Bala Nzola one-on-one with the keeper but he couldn’t make a clean contact with the ball.
Mourinho’s tribulations with the FIGC disciplinary process after his comments about referees last week had dominated much of the build-up to the game, but the Curva Sud showed their support for the Portuguese boss with an adoring banner.
Situation unravels for the Giallorossi
The feel-good factor was dampened somewhat midway through the first half when Dybala fell awkwardly in a challenge on Arthur Melo and was unable to continue due to an apparent muscular problem, Sardar Azmoun replacing him. Romanisti face an anxious wait as they cross their fingers that the injury-plagued striker’s issue isn’t serious.
Fiorentina had a big chance to sour the mood further deep in stoppage time when Gianluca Mancini was robbed of possession and La Viola raced clear in a 3v2, but Bonaventura opted to go alone and shot tamely straight at Rui Patricio.
But La Viola kept on coming, and Bonaventura again threatened past the hour mark by brilliantly engineering some space in a crowded box and bending a shot off the top of the bar.
It was a moment that kicked off a game-changing few minutes, as Zalewski was quickly dismissed for a second booking and he was no sooner at the steps to the dressing room than Martinez Quarta had nodded a Kouame cross into the bottom corner to level.
Fiorentina were soon camped in the Roma half and forced a good save from Patricio with a header from substitute Nico Gonzalez at the back post from point-blank range.
As the game broke into a frenzied conclusion, Lukaku flew off his feet into a challenge and was deservedly shown a straight red to reduce Roma to nine, much to the rage of the Olimpico crowd.
Mourinho resorted to handing a ballboy scribbled notes to hand to Patricio as he roared at his players from the touchline to try and keep them focused and organised.
Whatever his instructions were, they seemed to work as the hosts kept things tight to hold onto what could yet be an important point.