Roma were left fuming as Borussia Monchengladbach converted a controversial late penalty to earn a 1-1 Europa League draw at a sodden Stadio Olimpico on Thursday.
Nicolo Zaniolo’s first half header looked to have earned the home side a crucial three points until Scottish referee Willie Collum awarded the visitors a stoppage time spot kick for handball.
Replays showed the ball had struck Chris Smalling square in the face, not the hand or arm, but without VAR to review the decision Roma were left powerless as they watched Lars Stindl stroke home the equaliser.
Paulo Fonseca lined his side up in an unfamiliar 4-1-4-1 formation to compensate for an injury crisis that has sidelined eight first-team players, using centre-back Gianluca Mancini as a defensive midfielder.
The new system looked untested in the opening stages, as the visitors hit the crossbar through Ramy Bensebaini before Breel Embolo, Florian Neuhaus and Marcus Thuram sent efforts wide.
But Roma grew into the game and made the breakthrough just after the half-hour mark when Zaniolo rose to glance a header past Yann Sommer from Jordan Veretout’s corner.
The Italy international celebrated by sticking his fingers in his ears – a response to Fabio Capello’s advice to Inter Milan youngster Sebastiano Esposito earlier in the week to “not go the same way as Zaniolo”.
Both sides had gilt-edged late chances, with Roma substitute Alessandro Florenzi going clear through on goal but blasting a finish wide before Marcus Thuram – son of Lilian – fired over from a promising position.
But the boisterous visiting support were left with the last laugh as Collum’s poor decision gave the German side’s replacement Stindl the chance to send Pau Lopez the wrong way from 12 yards.
Despite the draw, Roma remain on top of Group J with five points thanks to Istanbul Basaksehir’s 1-0 win over Wolfsberger.
The Turkish and Austrian sides are immediately behind them on four points, while the Bundesliga outfit prop up the group with two points.