It wasn't pretty, but it worked. A first-half penalty from Gonzalo Higuain saw Napoli come away 1-0 winners on the road over Palermo, letting them keep pace with Juventus in the title race and building much-needed momentum for the final stretch of the season.
Napoli started out the match charging out of the gates, putting immense pressure on Palermo and nearly opening the scoring in the opening minutes thanks to a lovely spell of attacking play from Lorenzo Insigne. They kept attacking with abandon, knocking at Palermo's door repeatedly and demanding some quality play from their hosts' defense to keep them from scoring.
That work was undone in the 20th minute when a series of Napoli corners finally cracked Palermo, with Sinisa Andjelkovic bundling over Raul Albiol well off the ball, forcing referee Gianluca Rocchi to blow his whistle and point to the penalty spot. To be honest, there were several different things Rocchi could have called, with multiple Napoli players drawing hard contact on and off the ball. Higuain put away the penalty with ease, and it looked like Napoli were off to the races.
That didn't really happen, though.
It's not that Napoli played poorly, thankfully. They just kind of settled in after taking the lead and Palermo never really challenged them. Oh, Napoli would get forward from time to time and threaten at Palermo's goal, but Stefano Sorrentino was up for the few real serious challenges he faced and otherwise Palermo's packed-in defense was enough to see Napoli's attacks off.
The few Palermo attacks that got forward were generally cut out with ease. Jorginho did yeoman's work keeping the ball away from Franco Vazquez and in harassing the playmaker when he did get the ball, and Allan charged all over the pitch breaking up play. The few times Palermo did get past Napoli's midfield, their attacks were cut out with ease by Kalidou Koulibaly, and the rosaneri had a whopping one shot on target all match long.
Napoli's somewhat uninspiring attacking performance shouldn't have been a surprise -- Allan is still looking a bit worn, and Marek Hamsik was playing with a case of the flu, seriously hampering what he can do on the pitch. Insigne and Higuain did what they could, but with Jose Callejon a bit adrift on the right wing and the midfield not providing their usual support, there wasn't much to be done.
But Napoli got their goal and they got their win, and in the end that's all that matters. They've had better days, but come the end of the season the number one thing that matters is that they earned three points from this match. Now we get to wait a week to see Napoli face a Genoa side who have won two straight at the San Paolo. That match will be much trickier than this one was ever going to be.
On to the next.
Napoli: Reina; Hysaj, Albiol, Koulibaly, Ghoulam; Allan, Jorginho, Hamsik (Lopez 73'); Callejon (Mertens 65'), Higuain, Insigne (El Kaddouri 89')
Goal: Higuain (pen. 22')
Palermo: Sorrentino; Struna, Andelkovic, Gonzalez, Pezzella; Hiljemark (Balogh 81'), Jajalo, Chochev; Vazquez, Quaison (Trajkovski 90'+1); Gilardino (Djurdjevic 53')