Following two successive seasons where they had escaped relegation with just a game to spare, fans of the ‘Gialloblu’ could be forgiven for expecting more of the same. Tipped again as one of the favourites for the drop under Stefano Pioli, the early signs for how successful the season would become were visibly evident from the opening game of the season. A Sergio Pellissier penalty seven minutes from time secured a 2-1 win over Catania and with it the Gialloblu’s first opening day maximum haul for several seasons. The fantastic 3-1 away win over Genoa in week two had the Flying Donkeys’ momentarily soaring at the summit of Serie A.
The club surviving at this level for nine of the previous ten campaigns is nothing short of a miracle. With regular crowds of 12-13000 the club would not look out of place in Serie B, add the fact that the club only turned professional in 1986, yet 25 years later they are taking points off of the likes of Inter, Milan, Roma and Juventus. As such Pioli’s appointment was always looking like it may just be a shrewd move from President Luca Campedelli. After four matches, the Gialloblu had nine points from a possible twelve which included two successful away victories. Pioli as ever was playing things down, claiming this meant the club only needed 33 more points to stay up. The press however had different ideas, even daring to suggest that the club may just be ready to challenge for a Europa League spot.
One of Pioli’s strong points was his eye for a bargain in the transfer market. The Parma native built the side around the likes of Pellissier, Mantovani, Sorrentino, and Cesar whilst bringing in players whom he rates such as Davide Moscardelli, Marco Andreolli, Gelson Fernandes and player of the season Kevin Constant. The team hit a slump just before Christmas, not winning for four games following an amazing 2-1 home win over defending Serie A and Champions League holders Inter. Despite the two week break, the Gialloblu couldn’t shake the mid-season form which threatened to derail their season. Another four week slump was endured, extending the winless run to eight games before it was finally broken with a fantastic performance in a 3-0 win away at close rivals Brescia.
The win at Brescia sparked a mini revival which resulted in a four match unbeaten run, including a fantastic 2-0 home win over title chasing Napoli in front of the Stadio Marc Bentegodi. These result’s carried Pioli’s men safely back into mid-table as they looked to kick on from their encouraging start to the season. As it drew towards an excitable end to season, the Flying Donkeys had work still to be done. Safety was finally secured with two games to spare and a difficult away trip to European hunting Juventus. After falling 2-0 down early in the second half it would have been easy to throw the towel in, but not the gritty determination of Pioli’s men. Two goals in three minutes got the Gialloblu back on level terms to leave Juventus struggling to find the right answers, and the Flying Donkeys had the point they needed to confirm their place in the Serie A for another season. This left the side with nothing to play for but didn’t stop them winning 3-1 at Palermo, thus beating last season’s fourteenth place finish by three places in eleventh.
Coach – Stefano Pioli: The coach has been a real unsung hero of Serie A this season. Unknown in the top flight except for his brief spell with hometown Parma in 2006/07, the tactician took his chance so well he has already been targeted and spoken to by Roma who are looking to a younger, hungrier coach to lead them back on again.
Player of the season – Kévin Constant: The Guinea midfielder has really made a name for himself since coming to Serie A. He has scored several important goals this season, bombing forward from midfield to join the attack. His stock has risen enough to find himself being talked about and watched by much bigger clubs. One to look at for the future.
Turning point – Chievo 2-1 Inter: A fantastic game for fans of the Gialloblu. Goals in either half by Moscardelli and Pellissier sunk the defending Champions and gave everyone else a lift. Samuel Eto scored an injury time consolation for the visitors, but the Flying Donkeys held on to give everyone a lift, leaving Inter Coach Rafa Benitez hanging by a thread.
Average starting XI: