The midfielder comes off the bench to shatter Catania’s resolve with an injury-time winner that sends the Bianconeri nine points clear at the top of Serie A
An injury-time Emanuele Giaccherini strike shattered Catania’s resolve to send Juventus nine points clear of second-placed Napoli at the top of Serie A.
Antonio Conte’s men were good value for the three points after dominating for large spells of the encounter. But it appeared the spirited Sicilians were set to leave with a share of the spoils after repelling wave after wave of Bianconeri attacks.
Yet with news filtering through of Napoli trailing 2-0 at Chievo, Conte went for broke with three ambitious second-half changes that eventually tipped the pendulum in the hosts’ favour as Giaccherini bundled the ball home with seconds to spare.
The loyal Bianconeri following, basking in glorious spring sunshine at Juventus Stadium, answered Conte’s pre-match pleas for a vocal atmosphere and urged the hosts forward from the first shrill of Giannoccaro’s whistle.
And Juventus, featuring six changes from the side that overcame Celtic on Wednesday night, responded in kind by making instant inroads into the visitors’ half through slick passing and intricate movement.
The first chance of the encounter fell to Pogba on seven minutes, with the French midfielder inches away from making a clean connection with Pirlo’s inswinging free-kick that crept invitingly towards the back post.
Continuing to press forward with intent, Juve almost took the lead when Vucinic spun clear of his marker and unleashed a 25-yard shot from outside of the area which had Andujar sprawling to his right to parry clear.
But for all their endeavour and good movement in the opening half hour, the Bianconeri laboured to expose a Catania outfit determined to maintain the strict counter-attacking principles that have led them to harbor hopes of a European finish.
The visitors, who were largely restricted to speculative efforts from Gomez, Lodi and Marchese, almost fell behind on the half-hour mark when Marchisio wriggled free of a crowd of players before rolling a right-footed shot just wide of the upright.
And Maran’s men were left to breathe a sigh of relief moments later when Vucinic threatened to punish a defensive mix-up by regaining possession in the penalty area, only to see his shot on the turn cannon agonisingly back off the woodwork.
Fresh from Conte’s half-time words of encouragement, Juventus emerged for the restart with an added spring in their step. The increased momentum filtered through to the fans who were soon on their feet for Pogba’s trademark 30-yard blockbuster that stung the fingertips of Andujar on 52 minutes.
Despite the Bianconeri’s strong command of possession throughout, Catania grew in confidence as the half wore on and Castro will feel he should have done better with his long-range attempt that passed wide of the target.
But the hosts stuck diligently to their task and almost found the goal their efforts deserved when Pirlo’s direct free-kick was deflected into the path of Marchisio who turned his follow-up narrowly wide of the target.
Bolstered by the introductions of Matri, Giaccherini and Quagliarella at varying stages of the second half, Juventus cranked up the pressure on Catania’s stubborn defence.
A late Giaccherini forage into the area drew vociferous penalty appeals that fell on deaf ears, with Giannoccaro ordering the midfielder to his feet before brandishing the yellow card.
But the former Cesena man had the last laugh as he latched on to a loose ball in the area before ramming home to snatch victory at the death.
The Bianconeri’s never-say-die attitude was out in full force this afternoon as they dug deep to grind out a victory that could have a significant bearing on the destiny of this year’s Scudetto.
JUVENTUS 1-0 CATANIA
GOAL: Giaccherini 90+2
Buffon; Barzagli, Bonucci, Chiellini; Lichtsteiner, Pogba, Pirlo, Marchisio, Asamoah (Giaccherini 75); Vucinic (Quagliarella 76), Giovinco (Matri 65).
Substitutes not used: Storari, Rubinho, Marrone, Peluso, De Ceglie, Isla, Padoin, Anelka.
Andujar; Bellusci, Spolli (Rolin 86), Alvarez; Izco, Lodi, Almiron, Biagianti (Salifu 81), Marchese; Gomez (Cani 83), Castro.
Substitutes not used: Frison, Terracciano, Augustyn, Potenza, Sciacca, Ricchiuti, Doukara, Barrientos, Keko.
ASSISTANTS: Bianchi, Nicoletti
FOURTH OFFICIAL: Liberti
BOOKED: Gomez 41, Biagianti 64, Spolli 65, Giaccherini 89