What a difference a couple of days make. A disastrous start to the campaign for Siniša Mihajlović and the snipers were ready to pull the trigger. A nervy victory over a hit-and-miss Bari team and an even edgier win over rivals Empoli in the Coppa Italia have seen the Yugoslav’s blood pressure drop somewhat.
Senegalese youngster Khouma Babacar grabbed the all-important winner with just two minutes remaining in extra time. Mihajlović has insisted his side can realistically win the Coppa Italia, but this view was not shared by the mere 5,000 fans that turned up to the Stadio Artemi Franchi. However, La Viola bossed large parts of the game without ever really having much to show for their efforts. Babacar was presented with the first genuine chance of the game but he blazed his shot high over Alberto Pelagotti’s goal. Alessio Cerci was next to try his luck but his effort did not trouble the goalkeeper.
At the other end of the pitch Artur Boruc was making his first competitive start for La Viola. The debutant pitched in for the resting Sebastian Frey and Levan Mchedlidze was first to trouble the former Celtic man. Further efforts from Cerci and Mario Bolatti strengthened Fiorentina’s desires of progression, albeit with nothing to show, and Adem Ljajić carried on with his early season promise by pulling the strings in the final third but Empoli were proving a tough nut to crack.
The second half saw a further Viola onslaught with Ljajić, Papa Waigo and Bolatti going close but the frustration inside the Artemio Franchi was becoming evident. Empoli were content to sit back and frustrate la Viola, much to Mihajlović’s fury. Azzurri international Alberto Gilardino entered the fray in extra time but he flashed his header wide of the mark. Just when penalties looked inevitable youngster Babacar latched on to Ljajić’s assist to smash a hopeful effort home, beating Pelagotti with a deflected effort. With over 120 minutes on the clock Mihajlović reaped the benefits of the full time whistle as he celebrated his third win in charge of the Florence outfit.
Concentrations now turn back to the league with a risky trip to Catania on the weekend. The visit to the Stadio Angelo Massimino on Sunday evening will be emotional for Mihajlović: “I have fond memories of my experiences with the Etnei. I took over the team in last place and we slowly collected a long series of important results. We defeated Inter, as well as Fiorentina and Palermo, and won against Lazio in Rome establishing a new club record for points in Serie A. I was very satisfied with my time there. I left because my family could not move to Catania and I received significant offers.”
Rested players such as Riccardo Montolivo will benefit in what is another must-win game for la Viola. Former Chelsea bad boy Adrian Mutu is set for a place in the squad after serving his nine month ban for doping offences. The striker’s return will be a much-needed boost for a shot-shy team as he bids to get his career back on track. “Mutu is very important for us. With his personality, character and class he can help us make the step up, but he has not played for 10 months and so we have to take this into account.” Nonetheless, Mihajlović will have a strong side to choose from as he looks to rebuild his reputation as Fiorentina Coach. The former Inter midfielder is by no means out of the woods in terms of job safety but he can at least afford to raise a smile after his sides last two games.
If he can add a bit of style and elegance to his team’s play then th players will start to show their true colours. The trip to Catania will be tough but they are beatable if Montolivo and company can show the form they demonstrated under Cesare Prandelli. That was then and Mihajlović is paid to do well now and it is only surely only a matter of time that Fiorentina start climbing the table.