With Roma's Champions League hopes for next season riding on winning the Europa League, Paulo Fonseca's lineup choices for today's match against Bologna seemed to be made with Thursday's return fixture against Ajax in mind. The headline grabbing move was Bryan Reynolds first career start—making him the youngest American to ever start in Serie A—but Fonseca also gave Federico Fazio and Antonio Mirante rare starts. All told, Fonseca made six changes for today's Round 30 fixture against Bologna.
And, as one would expect given such a unique and seldom-seen lineup, Roma struggled to create or sustain much cohesion or synchronicity for much of the first half, looking tentative and uncertain how to approach the Bologna defense. Fortunately for Roma, Bologna weren't exactly firing on all cylinders in the early phases of this match either, but at least they were trying.
Bologna managed to make a bit of hay early in the match, with Rodrigo Palacio forcing the issue in only the 9th minute, forcing a blocked shot from Roger Ibañez. Bologna would win successive corners on the ensuing play and created the game's first real chance of the match when Mattia Svanberg caught Antonio Mirante out of position only to see his header miss the mark.
It was the first of several glaring misses from Bologna but more troubling than that was the lack of energy from the men in maroon. Without Lorenzo Pellegrini and/or Henrikh Mkhitaryan, there was no real force driving Roma's attack, which resulted in a few haphazard moves from Pedro and Gonzalo Villar, who were trying to take the initiative but more often than not seemed to paint themselves into a corner.
They did, however, team up in the 13th minute to create Roma's best looking play in the early phases of this match: a three-touch move with Borja Mayoral that didn't produce a shot but was at least proof of life from a beleaguered Roma side.
Bologna would continue to control the match, making noise in Roma's defensive end through Palacio and Musa Barrow, who pulled Mirante way off his line in the 16th minute. Bologna’s bad luck would continue as the match crossed the 20 minute mark, with Roberto Soriano and Danilo each missing clear cut chances: Soriano at the far post off a corner and Danilo on a one-timed effort at the left post, which shaded just wide and wound up in the side netting.
And that was pretty much the script for the first half. Roma looked incredibly sluggish and while Bologna weren't exactly playing peak Miha football, they were threatening Roma's end far more often, particularly when Palacio, Barrow and Soriano got involved and really should have been up a goal, if not two.
However, as is so often the case when club's miss sitters, fate can quickly and cruelly swing the other way.
Borja Mayoral: 44th Minute (Roma 1, Bologna 0)
Roma were the recipients of the game's good graces just before the stroke of halftime when they capitalized on a poor Bologna clearance. Thanks to a great ball over the top and a little “helping” touch from Danilo's glancing header, Mayoral was able to dribble past Skorupski for the open-goal sitter.
A completely and utterly undeserved lead from a lethargic Roma side, but that's how the cookie crumbles.
While neither Paulo Fonseca nor Siniša Mihajlović made any personnel changes to start the new half, Roma looked refreshed after the halftime whistle with Carles Pérez and Borja Mayoral creating a chance in only the 46th minute. Pérez sprung Mayoral into space in the Bologna area but Mayoral couldn't quite wrap his foot around the ball to manage a shot.
Not to be outdone, Roberto Soriano resumed his role as Bologna’s danger man, firing a shot from the edge of the area moments later. Roma and Bologna would trade half chances for the next 10 to 15 minutes, with neither club managing to create any clear cut chances. But, if nothing else, the match finally transformed from watching paint dry levels of boredom to this-is-okay-football-I-guess.
As the match crawled past the hour mark, Pérez and Mayoral linked up again, with Pérez feeding Mayoral into the 18-yard-box only to see his shot miss the mark. But that sequence would precipitate Roma's best attacking spell of the match.
Thanks to the individual efforts of Pedro and Pérez, Roma was able to maintain possession at the edges of Bologna’s area for a few minutes, with the two Spanish wingers diving into the 18-yard-box multiple times. The problem was quite simply that they were quickly and completely closed out by three to four defenders in an instant, and as such, weren't able to see the open runners on the periphery.
Fonseca would make his first change of the match in the 68th minute, swapping out Pedro and Amadou Diawara for Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Jordan Veretout, respectively. And Mkhitaryan would jump right into the fray, joining Mayoral on a fast break attempt in the 73rd minute. With Borja leading the charge through the middle, Mkhitaryan was wide open on the left, seemingly primed and waiting for a through ball that never came.
Roma had a one-nil lead, but this just felt like one of those matches; the kind where Rodrigo Palacio would stumble ass backwards into an equalizer off his elbow in stoppage time, so Roma were wise to hunt for a second goal. And in the 74th minute, they nearly found one when Bruno Peres lashed onto a rebound at the edge of the area, forcing a save from Skorupski.
Fonseca made his second double substitution in the 76th minute, giving cameos to Rick Karsdorp (on for Bryan Reynolds) and Lorenzo Pellegrini (on for Carles Pérez) but he REALLY pulled the wool over our eyes in the 85th minute when he gave Javier Pastore his first league appearance of the season, bringing on El Flaco for Mayoral.
Pastore didn't really have time to impact the match, but he did play one beautiful ball down the right, springing Karsdorp into the penalty area but the Dutchman simply couldn't manage a shot before the defense closed him out.
Bologna would make a couple of forays into Roma's end during stoppage time, but the final whistle blew after 94 minutes and change. Roma weren't exactly convincing but Mayoral’s surprising goal to close out the first half as all the Giallorossi needed to break their losing streak.
Bologna put up a surprisingly tough fight today and should have won the match by all accounts, but thanks to some poor finishing and one glancing header/clearance from Danilo, Roma was able to secure all three points. While the win broke Roma's three match winless streak and reduced the deficit behind sixth place Lazio to one point, Fonseca's crew wasn't able to make any headway in the hunt for the top four.
Roma hosts Ajax on Thursday in the second and final leg of the Europa League quarterfinals.
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