This felt like the turning point.
This felt like the moment that Lazio would transform from title outsiders to genuine title contenders.
The moment of the final whistle served as an instant cue for Lazio’s players to react with discernible emotion – many immediately raising their arms in the air in expression of sheer elation while others dropped to their knees simultaneously.
Simone Inzaghi’s side sealed their eleventh straight league victory, a record that dated back to October that, in turn, overcame their previously held Serie A best of nine consecutive wins under Sven-Göran Eriksson. Lazio finished second that season and followed that success by recording their last ever Scudetto Championship in 1999-2000 under the tutelage of the to-be England manager.
It was more than just the record, though. It was the fact that they had, yet again, overcome one of their revered title rivals: this time Antonio Conte’s Inter Milan, who they overtook in second place. They now sit a solitary point behind current Serie A holders Juventus, who, right now, appear anything but their normal imperious selves.
The fact that Lazio went in at the interval a goal down, having suffered the setback of conceding to an Ashley Young volley a minute before the break, felt even more significant.
A less assured side may well have buckled, but this Lazio side are made of sterner stuff this season, showing a consistent capacity to turn come from behind.
Back in October, during a home encounter to Atlanta, Inzaghi’s men recovered to score three goals in the final twenty minutes to rescue a 3-3 draw, not least to mention their stirring 3-1 home victory over Juventus that came after trailing to a first-half Cristiano Ronaldo strike.
Five minutes into the second period, Lazio found a way back into the game courtesy of a familiar face, former defender Stefan de Vrij – who memorably was responsible for conceding a penalty in his last game for the Roman club, ironically against Inter, who he had already agreed a pre-contract with the following season, and cost Lazio a Champions League qualification spot – by making enough contact with the back of Ciro Immobile – albeit a soft foul to concede – who duly made no mistake to convert the subsequent penalty for his 26th goal of the season.
Fortune was to play no part for the second goal, though. Immobile controlled neatly from a corner and his goal-bound effort was superbly cleared off the line by Marcelo Brozovic, only for the ball to land at the feet of the player who had looked the most potent all evening, Sergej Milinković-Savić.
The Serb, who had arguably looked the most threatening player on the field all evening and had seen an earlier long-range effort crash the woodwork in the first period, showed exquisite close control to manoeuvre space away from the onrushing defensive endeavours of Romelu Lukaku to fire into the bottom corner and send the majority of the Stadio Olimpico into raptures.
The 6 ft 5 in midfielder’s return to peak form this season has been integral to the Biancocelesti’s surge in this campaign under Inzaghi, for a side that appear to be wholly benefitting from the palpable squad togetherness and continuity under their young manager, who, at the very least, appears well on course to earn Lazio their first Champions League qualification in over a decade.
As for their title chances, they may be the most inexperienced of the title-challenging trio but they are the most in-form outfit, riding the crest of an indomitable wave.
If they achieve what many would have deemed unthinkable, it would, without doubt, surpass their previous Scudetto triumph twenty years ago.