Bari 3-4 Novara (AET)
Bari: Micai; Defendi; Tonucci, Di Cesare, Gemiti; Valiani, Romizi, Dezi; Rosina, Maniero, Sansone
Novara: Da Costa; Dickmann, Troest, Mantovani, Dell’Orco; Buzzegoli, Casarini; Faragò, Pablo Gonzàlez, Corazza; Evacuo.
They numbered about 20 to 30, huddled together in a separated corner of the San Nicola, flags, banners the lot draped around them as they sang their hearts out.
The aspirations of a second successive promotion at the forefront of their thoughts despite the road remaining long and arduous. Around them in the behemoth that is the San Nicola stood an intimidating 25000 strong crowd of Galletti supporters. All seemingly linked together in red as one fearful Roman legion set to destroy another barbarian force. Neither force however could have envisioned what was to come over the next 120 minutes.
In contrast to their fans the Bari players in the opening minutes resembled more a rabbit caught in the headlights then a blood thirsty legion. As with only three minutes on the clock Novara took the lead. Pablo Gonzalez taking control of the ball well out from goal, with no immediate danger on the cards the Bari defenders allowed him to spin away from them, still the danger did not look fatal. That was until Gonzalez unleashed a pinpoint drive from miles out into the bottom left corner past a despairing Alessandro Micai.
Jolted, Bari did manage to settle a bit better after that and really should have been back level on 15 minutes. A free kick from just out left was swung in by Alessandro Rosina and from point blank range was met by the head of Riccardo Maniero but the big striker could only send it straight at David Da Costa in the Novara net.
Having calmed themselves ever so slightly, the Bari game plan then took another series of blows by the 28th minute with not one but two substitutions being forced upon manager Andrea Camplone. Maniero and Denis Tonucci the men forced to make way.
The next ten minutes or so saw Bari probe but offer little in the way of penetration as the visitors sat behind their solid banks of two lines of four. Even though they looked happy enough to sit back and soak up any pressure offered Novara remained a threat on the break and that showed again on 43 minutes when Gonzalez got his second goal of the match.
Drifting in unmarked behind the Galletti defence he latched onto a perfectly paced pass over the top and then with oozing composure duly tucked under a helpless Micai. The 25000 crowd were quietened, as for the Bari players by the end of the first half most if not all resembled extras from the Walking Dead.
The jeers from the home crowd at half time obviously had no effect on the Bari players as exactly like the first half Novara scored after three minutes to make it 0-3. And who better to get it than Gonzalez, completing an all-round excellent hat trick. This one coming on the half volley, lashing it past Micai after once again he snuck in behind any would be marker and gratefully accepted Daniele Buzzegoli’s on the money cross from the right.
What little hope Bari did have of getting back into the match looked to have been well and truly snuffed out. In the stands it proved the final straw for many of the Ultras on the Curva Nord as they vacated their seats in disgust at how their team could put in such a pitiful performance in a match as important as this.
On 59 minutes though the Galletti players did at least show a small bit of fight as Rosina steered home from eight yards out. Timing his run so that he would arrive that little bit later, it worked a treat and gave a glimmer of hope to the beleaguered supporters in the stands.
Those fans saw their hope increased further when on 79 minutes Bari were awarded a penalty after a handball in the box. Rosina taking the responsibility on his shoulders stood up and promptly sent Da Costa the wrong way, faith was beginning to be renewed.
Six minutes from time the ultimate of ultimate comebacks came to fruition when George Puscas, an early first half sub, drove home from range. Although questions must be asked of Da Costa in the goal who got his hand to it but wasn’t strong enough to keep it out.
Three minutes into the second half Bari had looked dead and buried but now things had swung a full 180 degrees and extra time beckoned.
Extra time that boded better for Bari as all they had to do was maintain the score and they would advance into the semi-final as there is no penalties in the Serie B play-off’s with the side who finished higher in the table advancing.
The first half of extra time followed a similar pattern as the first half of normal time with Novara having the better of the play and going closest to restoring their lead but were unable to do so as the Gods seemingly withdrew whatever luck they had bestowed on them earlier in the match.
This luck looked to have fully evaporated when two minutes into the second half of extra time the Biancoazzurri were reduced to ten men with Lorenzo Dickmann being given his marching orders. But with only six minutes of the extra time remaining the Bulgarian hitman Andrej Galabinov rose at the back post and headed down past Micai to give Novara the win.
Even at that Bari should have drawn level once more right at the death when Jacopo Dezi was presented with a glorious opportunity but was unable to untangle his feet quickly enough and drove well wide on the volley
Novara advance on to face Pescara, with a second promotion on the trot still possible. For Bari the fact that they played in a classic will mean little as another season of Serie B awaits.