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Napoli vs. Cesena: Final score 3-2, Dries Mertens plays the hero

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A brace and assist from Napoli's favorite Belgian attacker was exactly what they needed to overcome Cesena.

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There was little to enjoy about that match. Napoli made an already-relegated side look decent once more, but Dries Mertens rose to the occasion and came out as the man of the hour, scoring a brace and serving up an assist as Napoli ended as 3-2 winners.

The start of the match was ... dull. Napoli got a couple decent pushes up the pitch in the early going, but for the most part lacked much in the way of urgency or quality on the pitch. They mostly looked better than Cesena, but it was clear that Napoli weren't at their best, or really anywhere near it.

Then Cesena scored.

Fifteen minutes in, and the defense went to sleep. Gregoire Defrel was carrying the ball up the pitch, and the defense backed off ... and backed off ... and backed off ... and backed off some more. Jorginho had waved his way out of the play, and David Lopez was busy covering a supporting run from Carlos Carbonero. Finally Kalidou Koulibaly realized that no one else was going to stop Defrel, so he stepped up to try to stop Defrel, but it was too little, too late. Before the French defender got close enough, his countryman in a Cesena shirt took his shot, which found the back of the net thanks to an "effort" from Mariano Andujar in goal that was actually worse than the "effort" of the defense in front of him. Impressive, really.

That kicked off a frenetic period of the match, with Cesena briefly looking dangerous before Napoli got back on the front foot. It wasn't long before Massimo Volta horribly misplayed a cross from Jose Callejon, and Dries Mertens was there to clean up the mess and poke the ball in. Two minutes later, Mertens was at the heart of things again, blowing past Volta to get to the byline and pulling the ball back to an aware and pesky Manolo Gabbiadini to tap in from close range.

Just like that, Napoli had gone from trailing a bad team to beating them. Napoli had a chance to go for the throat and bury Cesena on the pitch right then and there, but inexplicably decided to slow the match down and seemingly try to see out the half instead. Naturally, that backfired in a big way when -- surprise -- Defrel was carrying the ball up the pitch, and the defense backed off ... and backed off ... and backed off ... and backed off some more. Sound familiar? It should. It was basically the same play all over again. Koulibaly again was the only one who tried to stop him, but he tripped over Brienza on his way, and once again, Andujar completely misplayed the resulting shot. Right at the stroke of halftime, the scoreline was leveled, just like that.

The second half saw Napoli play with more energy, but they still largely lacked a cutting edge. They'd get in to the box and just seem to forget what to do with the ball. It was immensely frustrating, but hey, at least Cesena weren't doing any better. Finally, though, Mertens took control of things again, slashing through the box and combining with Marek Hamsik to bag a third goal for Napoli, taking the lead once more.

Fortunately, Napoli would hold it this time, though not for lack of frightening moments. Still, in the end, Napoli won. It wasn't pretty, and it wasn't fun, but Napoli got the three points they need. They still need some things to break their way down the final stretch of the season, but there's hope. Sometimes, hope is enough.

Napoli: Andujar; Mesto, Albiol, Koulibaly, Ghoulam; David Lopez, Jorginho; Callejon, Hamsik (Insigne 83'), Mertens (Gargano 89'); Gabbiadini (Higuain 67')

Goals: Mertens (19', 57'), Gabbiadini (21')

Cesena: Agliardi, Volta, Capelli (Rodriguez 73'), Krajnc, Renzetti, Tabanelli (Lucchini 57'), De Feudis (Cazzola 83'), Cascione, Carbonero, Brienza, Defrel

Goals: Defrel (15', 45'+2)