MILAN, Jan 7 (Reuters) - Napoli scored in the fifth minute of stoppage time to snatch a 2-1 win over Sampdoria who had a player controversially sent off as Serie A resumed with a bang on Saturday.
Lorenzo Tonelli, a fringe player in the Napoli squad, fired the ball in with almost the last kick of the game to keep Napoli on the heels of leading pair Juventus and Roma.
Elseid Hysaj’s own goal gave Sampdoria the lead before Manolo Gabbiandini had put Napoli back on even terms while striker Dries Mertens, who had scored eight goals in the previous three Serie A games, had an off day.
Third-placed Napoli went level on 38 points with Roma, four behind leaders Juventus. Roma visit Genoa on Sunday while Juve host Bologna.
Sampdoria went ahead just after the half hour when Hysaj tried to intercept Patrick Schick’s cross but the Albania defender only succeeded in turning the ball into his own net.
Mertens should have levelled just after half time but instead fired wildly over the bar and then pointed at a divot in the pitch, clearly feeling that was where the blame lay.
Sampdoria’s Matias Silvestre was booked for tripping Mertens and shortly afterwards was harshly booked again for another foul on Napoli goalkeeper Pepe Reina, although he barely seemed to make contact.
Mertens missed another easy chance after Jose Callejon knocked the ball down but Napoli levelled in the 77th minute with a close-range effort from substitute Gabbiandini.
Napoli’s intense pressure finally paid off when Tonelli scored after Ivan Strinic pulled the ball back from the byline.
A late goal from substitute Massimo Maccarone gave Empoli a 1-0 win over Palermo which put a seven-point gap between themselves and the Sicilians who are firmly in the relegation zone.
The player known as Big Mac came on in the 76th minute and within two minutes won and converted a penalty which settled the game.
Empoli, 17th in the 20-team table, have 17 points, followed by Palermo on 10 with Crotone and Pescara on nine apiece. (Writing by Brian Homewood in Berne, editing by Pritha Sarkar)