A last-gasp Juan Gomez header in the final moment of added time denied Juventus all three points this afternoon at the Bentegodi as this season’s surprise package Hellas Verona mounted a rousing second-half fightback to claim a 2-2 draw.
Everything appeared to be going to plan when Carlos Tevez lashed home two close-range finishes inside the opening 21 minutes to reward the Bianconeri for an impeccable first period.
Stung by a below-par first-half, the hosts rallied after the break and a perfectly-placed header from top scorer Luca Toni on 52 minutes set up a closely-contested remainder.
And despite seeming as if the reigning champions had succeeded in their attempts to repel a late Gialloblu assault, substitute Gomez found himself in the right place at the right time to guide Romulo’s cross home for a share of the spoils.
Antonio Conte’s starting line-up at the Bentegodi featured just two changes from last Sunday’s 3-1 Derby d’Italia triumph over Inter. Gigi Buffon returned from suspension to replace Marco Storari between the posts, while Martin Caceres stepped in for Andrea Barzagli on the right-hand side of the back three.
An aggressive start saw Tevez immediately at the heart of the action as the Bianconeri looked to silence a raucous home support with an early goal.
Reacting first to an Andrea Pirlo free-kick whipped into the area with pace, the Argentine flicked a header goalwards, only to be denied by a combination of Emil Hallfredsson and Rafael’s sharp reflexes.
This season’s top scorer didn’t have to wait too much longer to make a decisive contribution, though, as he reacted first to Kwadwo Asamoah’s parried shot to bundle the ball over the line with just four minutes played.
The newly-promoted hosts, who recently brought an end to a three-match losing streak with last week’s 2-1 win over Sassuolo, fought valiantly to prevent the Bianconeri from moving the ball around with pace and purpose, but struggled to bridge the visible gulf in class on show during the first 15 minutes of play.
Just when it appeared Verona had recovered from the early jolt of falling behind inside the opening exchanges, Juventus struck again. Spotting Tevez drifting dangerously away from the attentions of his marker, Paul Pogba provided the perfect pass for the Argentine, who made no mistake with a crisp left-footed finish that fizzed between the legs of Rafael on 21 minutes.
Gaining increasing time and space on the ball, Conte’s men continued to move forward with confidence and force their opponents to throw several bodies behind the ball in a bid to stem the tide.
Verona’s best outlets lay in the form of counter-attacks and the imposing figure of Luca Toni, who sought to make his aerial presence count from set-piece scenarios.
A purposeful introduction to the second-half saw Juventus, led by the inspirational Tevez, pick up where they left off. A fine display of close control by Asamoah set up Pogba with an early opportunity to test the goalkeeper from the edge of the area, only for the Frenchman to guide his effort straight into the arms of Rafael.
Yet the aforementioned aerial threat from Toni eventually manifested itself on 52 minutes, the frontman showing plenty of guile to sneak in at the front post and head Romulo’s inviting free-kick past Buffon.
The goal appeared to give the hosts a much-required injection of confidence following a one-sided first-half, and they responded by turning the tables on the Bianconeri with important spells of pressure of their own.
Seeking to freshen up his options in attack, Conte introduced January loan signing Dani Osvaldo to the fray in place of Fernando Llorente. And the Azzurri international almost made an instant impact, brushing the far post with a delightful dinked effort over the onrushing Rafael after being played through by Andrea Pirlo.
But the hosts stuck to their guns and continued to stand toe-to-toe with the reigning champions. Again it was Toni who made a nuisance of himself in the penalty box, this time Buffon responding to claw out his scrambled effort at full stretch with just over 10 minutes remaining.
Having seemingly ridden out the worst of a turbulent final period, there was to be one further dramatic twist in the tale as Gomez, on as an 86th minute substitute, rose highest to divert another accurate Romulo delivery into the back of the net.
The draw, coupled with Roma’s goalless stalemate with Lazio in the capital, means the Bianconeri remain nine points clear the top, but they will be determined to atone for a rare defensive lapse in concentration by returning to winning ways against Verona’s principal rivals, Chievo, next Sunday at Juventus Stadium.