* Roma thrash Palermo away to hold on to second place
* Third-placed Napoli brush visitors Crotone aside
* Icardi and Banega hat-tricks give Inter easy win (Adds details, quotes)
By Brian Homewood
March 12 AS Roma and Napoli enjoyed 3-0 wins over Serie A relegation candidates on Sunday as they kept pace with leaders Juventus, while Inter Milan captain Mauro Icardi and Ever Banega grabbed hat-tricks in a 7-1 rout of Atalanta.
Roma's goals at Palermo were shared by Stephan El Shaarawy, Edin Dzeko and Bruno Peres, while Napoli beat Crotone helped by penalties from Lorenzo Insigne, after 32 minutes, and Dries Mertens in the 66th before Insigne completed the scoring.
Juventus, who beat visiting AC Milan 2-1 on Friday, lead the standings with 80 points as they chase a sixth successive title, eight ahead of Roma with Napoli a further two behind.
Inter are up to fourth on 54 after thrashing Atalanta, whose coach Gian Piero Gasperini was sacked by the Milan side after only five games in 2011. The visitors, who have 52 points, had been expected to provide a stern test to their opponents.
El Shaarawy side-footed home from seven metres to give Roma the lead in Sicily after 22 minutes.
Although Palermo looked threatening, Dzeko put Roma further ahead when he chested the ball down and prodded it past Andrea Fulignati in the 75th for his 20th league goal of the season.
Bruno Peres then finished off a counter-attack with an angled shot to complete the win in stoppage time.
"We’re always hoping that Juventus slip up at some point, but they’re like a moving target – always setting a different yardstick," said Roma coach Luciano Spalletti.
"We’re happy with what we’re doing, as Napoli probably are too."
Furious Crotone claimed that Napoli's second penalty, awarded for what appeared to be the faintest of touches on Marek Hamsik, should not have been given and that Marko Rog should have been sent off with the score at 1-0.
Crotone coach Davide Nicola was left fuming after he was sent off for protesting the decision not to give a second yellow card for Rog for fouling an opponent.
Rog was substituted seconds later.
"Napoli were allowed to play with eleven men to the end, because Marko Rog should have been sent off," said Nicola. “The second penalty should not have been awarded and, in addition to that, Hamsik was offside."
In Milan, Icardi's perfect 10-minute hat-trick, including a penalty, followed by two goals from fellow Argentine Banega put Inter 5-0 ahead after 35 minutes.
Remo Freuler pulled one back but further goals from Roberto Gagliardini, who left Atalanta for Inter in January, and Banega compounded Atalanta's misery in the second half. (Writing by Brian Homewood in Berne, editing by Ken Ferris)