AS Roma's hopes of breaking a longtime Serie A title drought faded further on Saturday after a fourth consecutive draw, 1-1 at home to Empoli, to leave Juventus six points clear before their trip to Udinese.
Roma’s dreams of a first “scudetto” since 2001 were dented significantly by last week’s draw away to Fiorentina which allowed Juve to open up a seven-point gap on Rudi Garcia’s men.
Three-time consecutive and defending champions Juve will take their lead to nine points if they beat Udinese on Sunday.
“Conceding a fourth draw in a row isn’t ideal from a side that is supposed to be challenging for the title,” Brazilian defender Maicon told Sky Sport immediately after the rain-soaked Stadio Olimpico clash.
Coach Rudi Garcia looked glum as he called for his side, who lost midfielder Kevin Strootman to injury last week and have striker Gervinho still at the Africa Cup of Nations, to end their winless streak.
“We need to grit our teeth and get back to winning, starting with our Cup tie against Fiorentina on Tuesday,” he told Sky.
“Tonight we should have been attacking more but unfortunatley we just didn’t do that at the start of the game.”
Roma loaned striker Mattia Destro to AC Milan in midweek and the hosts suffered a blow before the half-hour when Juan Iturbe was forced off with a twisted ankle and replaced with Alessandro Florenzi.
Minutes later, Florenzi set up by Adem Ljajic to the left of the Empoli goal but switched to his right foot and saw his effort blocked.
However, the hosts were stunned minutes before the interval when Kostas Manolas was shown a straight red card after racing back to foul Riccardo Saponara as he teed up to shoot from close range.
The referee pointed to the spot and Massimo Maccarone sent Morgan De Sanctis the wrong way to give the visitors a 39th minute lead.
Ageing Roma captain Francesco Totti had given up possession more than once in the opening half and the 38-year-old made way immediately for defender Davide Astori.
Empoli’s joy, however, was tempered on the stroke of half-time after Saponara was cautioned for a second time after appearing to handle in the box, although replays suggested the ball came off his shoulder and upper arm.
When Roma finally equalised, it came thanks to a superb curling shot from Maicon just before the hour.
Roma came close again on 62 minutes when Astori fired a header off the crossbar from a corner and minutes later Florenzi was sent through on goal only to be thwarted by a saving tackle from Mario Rui.
Empoli striker Manuel Pucciarelli had penalty appeals waved away after a no-nonsense challenge from Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa and tensions boiled over soon after when Rui fell to the ground claiming Miralem Pjanic punched him in the ribs.
Empoli coach Maurizio Sarri, who erupted off the bench, was sent off for dissent.
Roma created a last-ditch chance in stoppage time but Florenzi was denied again by a great tackle from Levan Mchedlidze.
Earlier, 10-man Genoa had to settle for a point after being held 1-1 at home by Fiorentina.
Genoa broke the deadlock on 14 minutes when Stefano Sturaro’s shot hit the inside of the far post and came off the back of goalkeeper Ciprian Tatarusanu’s head.
Fiorentina levelled 10 minutes after the restart when Gonzalo Rodriguez flicked a corner past Mattia Perin at the back post, although Fiorentina striker Khouma Babacar looked offside.
Genoa’s chances of snatching their first win of the year were compromised when Nicolas Burdisso was shown a second yellow card for a foul on Matias Fernandez, which many pundits later claimed was harsh.
Genoa coach Giampiero Gasperini lost his cool after the game, telling Mediaset his side had “enough” of decisions going against them.
“It’s really a shame about the refereeing decisions, like the goal that was offside,” he told Mediaset.
“We’re putting in some great performances ... but enough is enough, all this is stopping us from being much higher up in the table.”
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