On resuming training shortly before the end of year, pressure was mounting high on the upcoming derby. Di Canio, stimulated by the change of Caso , was keen to end Lazio's drought of almost five years without a derby success. On the otherhand, after a dismal start of the season in which three different coaches were in charge in few months, Roma were gaining some consistency and were tipped as favourite winners. On the 6 th January both sides entered the pitch in the usual tense derby atmosphere. Lazio played diligently and aggressively to balance Roma technical superiority. Papadopulo's plan succeeded and Lazio took the light with a delightful finish by Lazio's captain Di Canio. His goal beneath the 'Curva Sud' was celebrated in a teasing stile as he had done back in 1989 when he scored Lazio's winner in the derby. Lazio continued to control the match that in the meantime had become much more aggressive. Mid-through the second half however Cassano equalised for the 'giallorossi'. Their joy did not last long though as after a couple of minutes a wonderful Cesar strike put Lazio back in front. Lazio were dominant side on the night and sealed their victory thanks to a Rocchi goal. It ended 3-1 for the joy of all Lazio fans. Di Canio and the other players celebrated under the 'Curva Nord' together with new coach Papadopulo. What a way to start the New Year!
Following the derby euphoria Lazio travelled to Florence to meet struggling Fiorentina. The homeside took the lead through Miccoli but Di Canio equalised for Lazio before halftime. Pandev with a breakthrough put Lazio infront and Dabo added the lead until Fiorentina scored their useless second goal again by Miccoli. Papadopulo's start at Lazio was excellent and all Lazio pre-Christmas troubles seemed so far away, but disappointment was around the corner. In the mid-week Lazio were to play Cagliari in the second leg of the Coppa Italia tie. The 'light-blues' had to overturn the first leg 2-1 defeat and in attack they had new on-loan signing Bazzani from Sampdoria who was swapped with Inzaghi till the end of the season. Lazio took the lead early through Antonio Filippini and were controlling the match easily. When Rocchi scored the second goal it seemed easy for Lazio. Papadopulo's men went even close to the third goal but it was Cagliari that stunned the home-crowd when they pulled one back and forced extra-time with the aggregate score being 3-3. In the extra time Cagliari equalised and for Lazio it was almost impossible to make a comeback. Two goals were necessary but only one was scored with just one minute to go by Rocchi. It was not enough and holders Lazio were out!
With only the domestic league action remaining hopes were high that Lazio could finally lift up their position and get out definitely from the relegation battle. Two consecutive home matches were next and optimism was reigning that misfortune had finally turned its back. After decades Lazio met Palermo in Rome . New comer Bazzani put Lazio infront. Papodopulo's men forced to increase their lead but squandered their chances. Palermo made a great comeback in the second half and scored three times to give Lazio another home defeat. The fans were back to the crude reality. Despair reigned again the following weekend when at home against flying Sampdoria, Lazio found themselves two goals down after just five minutes. Rocchi pulled one back in the second half but Sampdoria held their lead till the end. After so much misfortune at home Lazio hoped in an away victory at Reggio Calabria. Cesar gave Lazio the lead with a brilliant goal early in the game but was later expelled for useless fouls. Reggina equalised later on and to add insult to injury found a dramatic winner in deep injury time. Papadopulo's was soon under pressure and relegation was again behind the door. Against lowly Brescia at Rome , the squad played awfully as the fear of losing was higher then the will to win. It ended goaless.
The next trip was at San Siro against Milan . Lazio's last victory over the 'devils' in the league dated back 16 years and no one expected to end this drought. Lazio played defensively, trying to close the gaps and play on counter attacks. The system seemed full proof. Early in the second half Lazio even got the lead thanks to an Oddo penalty. Lazio resisted Milan 's comeback until a Shevchenko strike, from far outside the penalty box, surprised Peruzzi and levelled for the home side. Ancelotti's squad forced for a winner and went close on several occasions until on the last shot of the match, Kaka's strike hit the post and ex-Lazio striker Crespo rebounded into the net for a dramatic winner. As had happened in Reggio Calabria, Lazio lost a point in deep injury time.
The league standing was much more awful now with Lazio mixed-up with the other relegation battlers. A crucial direct encounter against revived bottom-club Atalanta was next. The 'bergamaschi' after a hopeless start of the campaign were having a great comeback following the arrival of new coach Delio Rossi and striker Makinwa from Genoa . Infact, the Nigerian forward put the visitors ahead before halftime. Within seconds Lazio equalised through Bazzani. In the second half Lazio pressed for a winner and found the decisive goal with a last minute volley by Liverani. The victory gave the squad enthusiasm that was reflected in the following weekend when Lazio travelled to Verona and beat Chievo 1-0 through Rocchi. The third consecutive victory was then registered in Rome against Parma with two goals from Oddo and Antonio Filippini that lifted Lazio temporarily upwards and out of the relegation battle. The positive run could have continued at Messina but despite playing well, Lazio did not manage to find the net and it was Messina who scored the winner and all points.
With ten matches left, Lazio still could not consider themselves completely out of the relegation zone since a lot of clubs where still involved, all packed together. The match against Inter was next. This meant Mancini's return to Rome together with his second in charge Fernando Orsi and several ex-Lazio players. On their entrance on the pitch, the fans welcomed them as traitors. The match evolved in a 1-1 draw with Lazio taking the lead through Antonio Filippini until Cruz levelled for the 'nerazzurri'.
A 1-0 defeat at Siena followed but Lazio retaliated with two consecutive wins, 3-1 against Livorno with goals from Muzzi, Cesar and Rocchi and 2-1 at Bologna with Oddo and Rocchi registering Lazio's comeback after going behind in the first half. With seven matches to go Lazio where eight points above relegation zone. The match at Cagliari was next and Lazio went down through an Esposito goal but a last minute header by Siviglia earned Lazio an important point. Leaders Juventus followed in Rome . The match was quite balanced and Lazio managed for almost all match to resist Juventus' attacks, until ex-player Nedved found the winner for the Turin side in the dying minutes.
Lazio then travelled to Lecce and played one of the most bizarre matches of the season. Following a multitude of emotions at the end Lazio lost 5-3 despite Rocchi scoring a hatrick and being 3-2 up with half an hour to go. Thus with four matches to go Lazio was just six points above relegation zone.
The next match saw Lazio hosting Udinese. The match was quite levelled until Iaquinta scored the vistors' winners with 25 minutes to go. Lazio forced in vanish till the end for an equaliser. The safety gap now was reduced to five points with the derby coming next.
With Lazio on 41 points and Roma just one point behind the derby was practically a relegation encounter. The match played under the scorching sun produced literally nothing and the teams seemed only interested in a draw. Both sets of fans were disappointed with the players' attitude, and they vividly expressed it by whistling all players on the field. It ended goaless and relegation zone was just four points away with two difficult matches to go.
Infact an almost decider was played in Rome against struggling Fiorentina. The visitors shocked the home crowd as Maresca opened the score just after two minutes. Lazio reacted well and equalised a quarter of an hour later. Lazio were graced in the second half when a clear off-the-line handball by Zauri was not seen by the referee. The match ended in a draw with the hosts arguing vividly for the ungiven penalty.
With one match to go Lazio were three points ahead of relegation zone and needed just a draw to ensure salvation. The away trip at relaxed Palermo started badly as Toni put immediately the sicilians infront. Rocchi equalised before the break, but two Palermo goals put the homeside back infront. Despite the deficit, news from other grounds were favouring Lazio who however reacted well and scored twice through Bazzani and Muzzi to secure the necessary point. Lazio were save and for Papadopulo's men and all Lazio fans, it was a big sigh of relief. The first season under the Lotito era was really stressful and filled with controversies. Everyone was expecting Lotito to learn from his administrative mistakes for a better future. A couple of days after the end of the season Papodopulo was sacked and replaced by Delio Rossi.
Missing seasons are coning soon