Atalanta push for top 4 falters with surprise loss to Lecce

MILAN (AP) — Atalanta’s push for the top four in Serie A was dented on Sunday by a surprise 2-1 loss at home to Lecce as the race for the Champions League qualifying places intensified.

Assan Ceesay and Alexis Blin netted in each half for Lecce, which moved 10 points clear of the relegation zone with the win. Rasmus Højlund pulled one back for Atalanta three minutes from time.

Atalanta was level on points with fourth-place Roma and two ahead of Lazio. Roma was playing relegation-threatened Hellas Verona later while Lazio was visiting struggling Salernitana.

Atalanta had been hoping to move level with third-place AC Milan, ahead of their match next week.

But it got off to the worst possible start as Ceesay drove a low shot into the bottom left corner from more than 30 yards out to give Lecce the lead in the fourth minute.

Atalanta coach Gian Piero Gasperini was furious with his players in the first half but the home team improved after the break.

Ademola Lookman thought he had leveled almost immediately after the restart but it was ruled out for offside.

Instead, Lecce doubled its lead in the 74th minute when a corner was taken short and the ball whipped in by Gabriel Strefezza for a completely unmarked Blin to head home.

Lecce gifted Atalanta a way back into the match when goalkeeper Wladimiro Falcone hesitated on a clearance allowing Højlund to close and deflect the ball into the net.

That set up a nervy finale but Falcone atoned for his error by pushing Luis Muriel’s ferocious strike over the bar in stoppage time.

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Daniella Matar, The Associated Press