There hasn’t been much for Genoa fans to cheer this season.
Before Wednesday’s Derby della Lanterna, the story of 2019/20 had been depressingly familiar: cautious optimism at the outset, two coaches sacked, a derby defeat, and another relegation battle.
But the pressure on Nicola and his players going into the second clash of the season against Sampdoria was immense, with just four points separating the Grifone from Lecce in the final relegation spot.
Genoa’s rivals would’ve loved to be the ones to send them spiralling towards Serie B, and had plenty of reasons to be confident they would do just that.
A run of five wins in six games, including three in a row leading up to the midweek meeting, steered Claudio Ranieri’s side away from danger and into the security of mid-table.
It has been a remarkable turnaround in fortunes for the Blucerchiati, who were rooted to the bottom of the table when veteran coach took over from Eusebio Di Francesco in October last year.
But it wasn’t just recent history that made Samp big favourites for the clash at the Marassi. The last time Genoa won this fixture, Suso and Leonardo Pavoletti were on the scoresheet and Gian Piero Gasperini was in the dugout, during a 3-0 victory in May 2016.
The Grifone and their fans have been starved of success, and there were few signs pointing to this being the night things would change.
But they did. It was a deserved win for the Rossoblu, who put in a commanding performance that demonstrated for the second time in four days that for all its defects, this team does have the ability to stand up and be counted when it matters most.
On Sunday, Genoa faced Lecce knowing that defeat would leave just a one-point gap between them and the drop zone.
They rode their luck, as Marco Mancosu missed a penalty and Gabriel’s painfully unfortunate own goal gifted them the winner, but Nicola’s side got the job done.
Back-to-back wins in high stakes matches sends Genoa into the season finale in good shape – but they can’t afford to relax quite yet.
As it stands, the Rossoblu have 36 points and Lecce 32, with three rounds remaining. Udinese, who face Juventus on Thursday to make up their game in hand, also have 36 points, while Torino should be just about clear of danger on 38 points.
A four-point gap to safety appears to be a relatively comfortable one at this late stage of the season, but a glance at the fixture list suggests otherwise.
Next up, the Grifone host Inter, before finishing up with a trip to Sassuolo and a home clash against Verona. Lecce face Bologna (A), Udinese (A) and Parma (H).
The prospect of Genoa losing to the Nerazzurri and a motivated Lecce side beating an out-of-form Bologna outfit with little left to play for is not unrealistic, and would cut the gap to one point.
The message to the players at this stage is likely to be 216;don’t look too far ahead’.
Genoa have come up big in their last two games. Now it’s up to Nicola to make sure it wasn’t all for nothing.