Roma ended its winless streak with a 2-0 victory over Genoa in Serie A on Sunday to relieve some of the pressure on coach Rudi Garcia, while league leader Inter Milan lost 2-1 at home to Lazio.
Alessandro Florenzi opened the scoring just before halftime at the Stadio Olimpico and the whole Roma team ran over to hug Garcia.
Edin Dzeko was sent off 16 minutes before the end but teenager Sadiq Umar sealed the match late on to end a seven-match winless run for Roma that included Wednesday’s Italian Cup exit against second-division Spezia.
"Today we see the light at the end of the tunnel," Garcia said. "There will be a lot of good things in the second half of the season. This is an important victory, but not the most important since I’ve been sat on the Roma bench.
"It’s a reward for the whole group which didn’t have much energy but managed to get the win with the right mental resources. My players are top drawer and they deserve to have a great second half of the season. With my skills and my defects I will give everything for Roma."
Roma remained fifth but only four points behind Inter after Antonio Candreva’s late penalty at San Siro.
Napoli beat Atalanta 3-1, and Fiorentina defeated Chievo Verona 2-0, to stay tied for second on 35 points, two ahead of Juventus which came from behind to win 3-2 at Carpi.
Carpi almost snatched a point after a stoppage-time own goal from Juventus defender Leonardo Bonucci as Lorenzo Lollo miskicked from close to goal. Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri was so angry that he tore his coat off and threw it at the bench.
AC Milan moved into sixth after coming from behind to rescue a 4-2 win at relegation-threatened Frosinone, and bottom club Hellas Verona held high-flying Sassuolo to a 1-1 draw.
Sampdoria beat fellow struggler Palermo 2-0, while 10-man Udinese won 1-0 at Torino.
Reports in Italy said Garcia faced dismissal if Roma failed to beat Genoa in the final match before the winter break.
Florenzi netted the all-important goal two minutes from the break, volleying in at the back post after Lucas Digne’s cross was deflected by Genoa defender Ezequiel Munoz.
Dzeko was shown a straight red in the 74th for dissent and Genoa almost took advantage of its numerical superiority before Sadiq secured the win seven minutes after coming off the bench, heading in a cross from fellow substitute William Vainqueur.
It was the 18-year-old Sadiq’s first Serie A goal in his third appearance.
The top five in Serie A are within four points off each other after Inter’s third loss of the season.
Candreva got Lazio off to the perfect start with a powerful strike into the near corner, leaving Inter goalkeeper Samir Handanovic rooted to the spot.
Mauro Icardi leveled on the hour, springing the offside trap to race onto Ivan Perisic’s through-ball and into the area before netting with Inter’s first shot on target.
But Lazio snatched all three points in a frantic finale after Felipe Melo clattered into the back of Sergej Milinkovic-Savic three minutes from time. Penalty specialist Handanovic saved Candreva’s spot-kick but the Italy midfielder fired home the rebound.
Matters swiftly went from bad to worse for Melo as he was sent off for a challenge with a foot so high he kicked Lucas Biglia on top of the shoulder. Milinkovic-Savic was also dismissed moments later following a second booking.
It was Lazio’s first win in eight rounds.
In Bergamo, the match sparked into life after the break when Napoli was awarded a penalty after a needless handball by Marten De Roon.
Marek Hamsik had missed his last five penalties and almost did so again as his spot kick bounced off the underside of the bar but went over the line.
Alejandro Gomez leveled less than two minutes later but the league’s leading goalscorer Gonzalo Higuain scored twice to take his tally to 16 in Serie A this season.
Hamsik missed a late penalty after Gabriel Paletta was sent off for bringing down Dries Mertens.
Napoli played the final 15 minutes with 10 men after Jorginho was dismissed for two bookings in three minutes on his 24th birthday.