Serie A relegation playoff: Ngonge secures survival for Verona, subpar Spezia fall into Serie B

Cyril Ngonge was Verona's saviour as he led the Mastini to victory in the Serie A relegation playoff over Spezia in Reggio Emilia.

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MAPEI STADIUM (Reggio Emilia): It is Spezia who will join Sampdoria and Cremonese in Serie B next season after falling to a 3-1 defeat in what was an exciting Serie A relegation playoff against Hellas Verona in Reggio Emilia on Sunday night. There were three goals scored inside the game’s opening quarter as each of the two looked to fight against the drop.

Verona, in truth, were always on top though. Spezia never really got a foothold in the game and Ethan Ampadu’s 15th-minute qualiser was a bolt from the blue after the Welshman himself had a huge hand in the Mastini going ahead, making a real mess of an attempt to clear a Davide Faraoni strike away from his goal.

Ngonge’s excellence, Ampadu’s nightmare

If one man was single-handedly responsible for Verona’s first-half dominance it was Cyril Ngonge. The Belgian showed real intent to drive at the Aquilotti goal every time he found himself in possession and scored two fine goals that were the reward his overall performance warranted.

After Faraoni had opened the scoring with help from Ampadu and the Welshman then responded, Ngonge took over. He restored Verona’s lead midway through the first half after playing a fine one-two on the edge of the Spezia box that teed him up to fire low past Bartlomiej Dragowski.

His second was even better even if it was aided by yet more slack Spezia defending. Gathering the ball around the halfway line, Ngonge carried it virtually unchallenged until getting into the box. With Ampadu in front of him, he teased his marker before squeezing a shot past Dragowski, again via a deflection off the defender.

Spezia stale even against 10

Mbala Nzola, suffering racist abuse from a small section of the Verona end every time he touched or even went near the ball, wasn’t anywhere close to his usual level. Spezia’s talisman was kept quiet by the Verona backline and just couldn’t find any pockets of space to move into.

The Ligurians were left seriously wanting in attack and it wasn’t solely down to Nzola. Eldor Shomurodov was quiet, but was denied a goal when Faraoni raced back to punch an effort off the line after the forward had lobbed Lorenzo Montipo. Faraoni was given his marching orders and would have felt justified in his decision as Montipo denied Nzola’s tame spot kick.

With Verona down to 10 and holding on, Spezia pressed more and looked to knock on the door in the final quarter of an hour, but their lack of quality in the final third told and their shots and crosses were wayward and those of a frustrated side.

It will be Verona, then, who hold onto their Serie A status for the 2023/24 season, with Spezia falling down to Serie B. Coming up in the Aquilotti’s place is Cagliari after the Sardinians beat Bari at the Stadio San Nicola in the second leg of their promotion playoff final.

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