The Tuscan side spent just two weeks outside of the top two throughout the entirety of the campaign, but a horrendous run away from home coupled with the emergence of Latina threatened to derail their automatic promotion push during the run in.
Having failed to clinch promotion with a draw in their penultimate match against Cittadella, Maurizio Sarri’s outfit were understandably waryof slipping up in what looked a relatively straightforward encounter at home to a Delfini side with nothing left to play for.
Despite dominating proceedings, the game remained goalless until 20 minutes from time when Pescara’s Federico Di Francesco turned the ball into his own net with a hapless attempt to clear Mirko Eramo’s low cross from the right.
Empoli have hardly needed much help in finding the net this season, but in the circumstances they will no doubt have been grateful for the helping hand.
It was fitting though that the final goal of an historic campaign would belong to Francesco Tavano. The 35-year-old has been something of a talisman since joining from Livorno in 2007, and with 15 minutes left steered home his 22nd goal of an incredible campaign, a total bettered only by Trapani’s Matteo Mancosu.
Few could deny that Empoli deserve their place back at the top table of Italian football. Almost relegated to Lega Pro two seasons ago and only narrowly beaten by Livorno in last season’s play-off final, the Tuscan side have reaped the benefits of maintaining consistency in both their coaching setup and playing staff.
Staying in Serie A will prove an entirely different challenge altogether, but for now such worries can wait as they celebrate a promotion that is fitting reward for several seasons’ worth of hard work.
Where one team celebrates, another will always be left to commiserate, and it was a disappointing end to the regular season for a Latina side that had pushed Empoli so close during the closing weeks.
The Serie B debutants could manage just a goalless draw in their final day clash with Spezia and finished four points adrift of their Tuscan rivals. They can be justifiably proud of their efforts on their maiden campaign at this level though, and can still entertain hopes of promotion as the play-offs approach.
There was drama too in the race to join Latina in the play-offs. Cesena and Modena had already secured their places and shared a final day goalless draw with one another, while Crotone made sure of their play-off berth with a goalless draw at champions Palermo.
However, there was triumph and heartache in equal measure elsewhere, as Bari edged into the top eight just as the door was slamming shut. Trailing Novara 1-0 with less than half an hour remaining, the Biancorossi blew away their opponents in the closing stages, emerging with a 4-1 win in front of an incredible crowd of almost 50,000.
Bari’s turnaround in fortunes has been one of the stories of the campaign, as they battled relegation for the majority of a season that saw them also post the lowest recorded attendance, with just 936 witnessing their week five encounter with Modena.
A run of nine wins in their last eleven games however means that the Apulian outfit will go into the play-offs as one of the favourites to clinch the third and final promotion berth.
Missing out though were Siena, with the Tuscan side consigned to a second straight season in Serie B in devastating fashion. Trailing Varese 1-0 with two minutes remaining, Alessandro Rosina missed a penalty that would have lifted Siena above Spezia and into the play-offs. A 96th minute spot kick from Luigi Falcone made it 2-0 to Varese, rubbing salt in Siena’s wounds and leaving them to ponder the four point deduction that ultimately carried a far greater cost.
That win meanwhile was not enough to secure Varese’s safety, as Cittadella completed a miraculous escape with a goalless draw at Virtus Lanciano. From out of nowhere Cittadella found a rich vein of form just as Varese were starting to sink like a stone, and it is the Lombardy outfit that will now contest a relegation play-off with Novara.
Elsewhere, in matches of little consequence save for professional pride, bottom two Juve Stabia and Reggina signed off in defeat, beaten by Carpi and Ternana respectively. Third bottom Padova meanwhile ended the season with a 2-1 win over Avellino, while Brescia recorded a 1-0 win over fellow mid-table dwellers Trapani.
And so ends one of the more curious regular Serie B seasons in recent memory, not quite as thrilling as the title races witnessed in recent campaigns, but no less intriguing as a result. The new six team play-off format now promises to throw up just as much drama.