The Tuscan side came into this encounter leading their opponents by just four points but have now effectively consigned Crotone to the play-offs thanks to a largely dominant performance.
Massimo Maccarone opened the scoring inside the opening ten minutes, slamming home from close range after Michele Cremonesi had made a hash of his attempt to clear Mario Rui’s looping cross from the left.
The former Middlesbrough man then doubled the advantage ten minutes before half time with an effort from the edge of the area that bounced awkwardly in front of Crotone keeper Alfred Gomis before nestling in the bottom corner.
It was Maccarone’s 15th goal of another impressive campaign, and only smart reflexes from Gomis denied him a first half hat-trick, diving smartly to his right to palm clear a close range glancing header.
A stunning right footed strike from Danilo Cataldi arrowed into the top corner from around 25 yards out to reduce Crotone’s deficit early in the second half, but the points were wrapped up in fine style in the 92nd minute as Simone Verdi defied the offside trap to latch onto Mirko Eramo’s through ball before delicately lobbing Gomis for Empoli’s third.
Having managed to cure their travel sickness with a comprehensive victory over Brescia the previous weekend, Maurizio Sarri’s men will surely feel confident of picking up the points required to secure promotion back into Serie A during the remaining four games.
The gap over third however remains at just four points after Latina bagged all three points with a 2-0 victory over Ternana. The visitors were reduced to nine men following the second half dismissals of Angelo Raffaele Nole and Crocefisso Miglietta, before Latina won it with a Federico Viviani free-kick and an injury time strike from Jefferson.
Empoli’s next opponents Cesena meanwhile ensured they still have an interest in the race for second, with Emmanuel Cascione’s injury time penalty securing a narrow win away at Padova, but they will head into Tuesday night’s encounter with the Tuscans knowing that anything less than a win is likely to see them fall short come the end of the season.
Meanwhile, Modena’s excellent form continued with a 3-1 win at home to Novara, and the side from Emilia-Romagna now look a good bet to secure a play-off place. Virtus Lanciano’s hopes of securing a top eight finish were also boosted by a highly creditable 1-1 draw away at champions Palermo, while Avellino moved back into the top eight with a timely 2-0 win over Spezia.
Bari’s late push for a play-off berth continued with a 3-0 win over already relegated Juve Stabia, but Trapani continue to slide following a 2-1 defeat to lowly Cittadella, as do Siena who fell to a 1-0 defeat at Pescara.
Further down the table, that win for Cittadella – their fourth in a row – lifted them to a position of safety for the first time since December. They move out of the relegation play-off places at the expense of Varese, who suffered a fifth straight defeat with a 2-0 reversal at home to Carpi.
However, it is the end of the line for Reggina, whose relegation was confirmed despite a 1-1 draw with Brescia. Docked three points at the start of the season, the Amaranto have laboured throughout the campaign and as a result will return to the third tier of Italian football for the first time since 1995.