Conor Clancy Date: 6th October 2019 at 10:30am
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STADIO PAOLO MAZZA (Ferrara) – Leonardo Semplici celebrated 200 games on the SPAL bench on Saturday afternoon as his Biancazzurri epitomised what they are to hold off Parma with 10 men to win 1-0 in Serie A’s latest Emilia-Romagna derby.

The Ferraresi came into round seven with just one win behind them this season, and their five losses marked their worst start since 1967/68, a campaign which ended in relegation.

Having already fallen to both Bologna and Sassuolo already this term, the signs didn’t bode well for SPAL coming into their third meeting with a fellow side from Emilia-Romagna but they tend to get the better of the Crociati when they cross paths, and so it proved again. Semplici’s men won both meetings last season – 3-2 and 1-0 – but with their troubling run this season and their underwhelming streak in Ferrara on top of that, even those in the Curva Ovest could have been forgiven for arriving with a cloud of pessimism hanging over them.

But if you were to ask anyone who’s watched this team regularly in recent years to pick three adjectives to describe Semplici’s SPAL, you’d probably see fighting, aggressive and organised quite frequently in the list of responses.

And that’s exactly what they showed themselves to be from the off on Saturday. The hosts never allowed Parma to settle, getting in their visitors’ faces and not letting them rest for a moment when they had the ball themselves, moving it around swiftly and looking to prove the Gialloblu backline.

Gabriel Strefezza had his attempts – wildly firing a volley back at the corner flag, scuffing another into the ground and wide before fizzing a third just beyond the post.  The Brazilian went on to play a central role, with another of his efforts finding its way to Andrea Petagna to open the scoring before he later took a dive and got sent off.

It was when SPAL went down to ten men that they showed their character even more. For all Parma’s possession, the only chance they ever really carved out saw Gervinho put the ball in the net but only due to an earlier offside that was spotted and flagged once the play had ended. Semplici had them organised to a T and they never gave an inch.

Two-hundred games is no mean feat, either. Semplici sits some distance clear of Atalanta’s Gian Piero Gasperini and Lazio’s Simone Inzaghi as the longest-serving coach in Serie A.

He’s adored by the Ferraresi and with his contract set to run until 2021 it’s hard to see that stay ending anytime soon.

Petagna, the perfect frontman for SPAL

There aren’t many strikers in Serie A who can put their weight around to the effect of Andrea Petagna. Since joining from Atalanta in 2018 he’s found a home in Ferrara and Semplici’s tactics suit him more than those of any other team he’s represented.

He’s hit top gear at the Paolo Mazza, and scored goals like never before over the last 13 months, surely putting himself into Roberto Mancini’s thoughts, if not yet breaking into his Italy squad.

With 20 goals in 45 appearances – 0.44 per game – for the Biancazzurri, the 24-year-old has bettered the 19 first-team goals he managed in 139 appearances – 0.13 pg – spread across five clubs before being united with Semplici.

Depth isn’t something SPAL have but if they can keep getting a tune out of Petagna then they’ll back themselves to survive for another season in the top tier.