Higuain brace takes Juve closer to sixth title in a row

By Brian Homewood
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Football Soccer - Pescara v Juventus - Italian Serie A

Football Soccer - Pescara v Juventus - Italian Serie A - Adriatico-Giovanni Cornacchia Stadium, Pescara, Italy - 15/04/17 Juventus' Gonzalo Higuain celebrates after scoring second goal. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi

By Brian Homewood

MILAN (Reuters) - Gonzalo Higuain scored two first-half goals to give Juventus a 2-0 win at bottom club Pescara which took them eight points clear at the top of Serie A on Saturday and closer to a sixth successive title.

Juventus were given a helping hand by Atalanta who held second-placed AS Roma to a 1-1 draw at the Stadio Olimpico, adding to an unhappy spell for the hosts who have recently been knocked out of the Europa League and Italian Cup.

Cristian Zapata scored with the last kick of the game as AC Milan hit back from two goals behind to draw 2-2 with Inter in the derby, although only Europa League places were at stake for the two struggling giants.

Palermo drew 0-0 at home to Bologna, ending a run of five successive defeats, as Diego Bortoluzzi began his reign as their fifth coach of the season. The visitors played for more than an hour with 10 men after Erick Pulgar was sent off.

Juventus have 80 points with Roma on 72 and Napoli 67 ahead of their match at home to Udinese later on Saturday.

Milan stayed sixth, the last of the Europa League spots, and two points clear of seventh-placed Inter.

Higuain turned in Juan Cuadrado's cross to give Juventus a 23rd-minute lead at Pescara and he slid in the second just before halftime after Mario Mandzukic knocked the ball into his path.

Atalanta took a first-half lead at Roma with Jasmin Kurtic's volley before Mohamed Salah laid the ball off for Edin Dzeko to level soon after the interval with his 25th goal of the season.

Daniele De Rossi, with a bicycle kick, and Radja Nainggolan both hit the woodwork as Roma pressed desperately for a winner.

"It’s not the time to throw the toys out of the pram, nor is it a great situation because we’ve gone out of two cups," said Roma coach Luciano Spalletti. "If you have the quality, ultimately someone has to take responsibility."

"Every now and again, we go into our shells and become overwhelmed by doubt, which is what happened in the first half."

In the first Milan derby with both teams under Chinese ownership, Inter raced to a 2-0 halftime lead thanks to goals from Antonio Candreva and Mauro Icardi.

Alessio Romagnoli reduced the arrears after 83 minutes as Milan complained about Inter time-wasting and Zapata levelled seven minutes into stoppage time.

Torino forward Andrea Belotti won and converted a controversial penalty against Crotone to take his season's tally to 25 and stay level with Dzeko as Serie A's joint top-scorer, but Simy earned the relegation-threatened visitors a 1-1 draw.

Empoli boosted their survival hopes by beating Fiorentina 2-1 away with another controversial penalty awarded for an alleged trip by Borja Valero on Manuel Pucciarelli.

Manuel Pasqual ignored the Fiorentina protests to convert and put Empoli, who are 17th, five points clear of the relegation zone which features Crotone, Palermo and Pescara.

Fourth-placed Lazio twice came from behind to draw 2-2 at Genoa where Ivan Juric was back on the bench, less than three months after previously being fired.

(Writing by Brian Homewood, editing by Ed Osmond and Toby Davis)