Tammy Abraham was on target as AS Roma got back to winning ways with a 2-1 victory at Serie A strugglers Empoli.
The Giallorossi were looking to put the disappointment of back-to-back defeats behind them and got off to the perfect start when Paulo Dybala curled a magnificent opener into the top corner on 17 minutes.
However, Roma began to sit back and were deservedly punished just prior to the interval when Filippo Bandinelli headed in a smart equaliser.
Mourinho’s side stepped it up following the interval and Abraham capped his return to the starting line-up with a close-range volley to seal the points 19 minutes from time.
Roma could have added to their margin of victory but Lorenzo Pellegrini hit the crossbar with a penalty.
Any Empoli hopes of salvaging a late draw were dashed three minutes from the end when substitute Jean-Daniel Akpa-Akpro was shown a straight red card for a high boot after the referee was asked to check the monitor by VAR.
The result means Roma move up to fifth in the Serie A standings, just one point off the summit. Empoli remain 16th and are still winless after six matches played.
Roma will now switch focus to the Europa League clash at home to HJK Helsinki on Thursday before hosting second-placed Atalanta on Sunday. Empoli visit Bologna on Saturday.
Roma stop the rot but need to improve. After the embarrassing nature of the defeats to Udinese and Ludogorets, this was a much-needed tonic for Mourinho and his players. The criticism was quick to arrive and the relieved celebrations at full time showed just how much they needed a positive outcome.
Bigger tests will clearly lie ahead but they could yet end this week on a high. They will aim to get their Europa League campaign back on track on Thursday before a crunch meeting with second-placed Atalanta at the weekend.
Mourinho has claimed his side are not candidates for the Scudetto but it’s shaping up to be quite tight at the top in Serie A. Indeed, a positive result against Atalanta followed by one versus Inter Milan after the international break could yet see a complete change in fortunes, but they will still need to up their game considerably from what was at times a laboured display at Empoli.
PLAYER OF THE MATCH
Paulo Dybala (AS Roma). The Argentine provided the moments of genuine class. He opened the scoring with an absolute beauty before putting the winner on a plate for Abraham. He could yet prove to be an excellent signing for Mourinho and Co.
EMPOLI: Vicario 7, Stojanovic 7, Ismajli 6, Luperto 7, Parisi 7; Haas 6, Marin 6, Bandinelli 7; Pjaca 7; Lammers 6, Satriano 7. Subs: Cacace 6, Bajrami 6, Akpa Akpro 5, Grassi n/a, Cambiaghi n/a.
AS ROMA: Rui Patricio 7; Mancini 6, Smalling 7, Ibanez 7; Celik 6, Cristante 7, Matic 6, Spinazzola 7; Dybala 8, Pellegrini 7; Abraham 7. Subs: Belotti n/a, Bove n/a, Vina n/a, Camara n/a.
07’ – ROMA CHANCE! Roma manufacture their first real opportunity of the night and they really should go ahead. Abraham’s presence attacking a right-wing cross causes panic in the home defence, leaving Dybala free to lash the dropping ball against the post from just five yards out.
17’ – GOAL! – Empoli 0-1 Roma. Dybala produces a moment of magic as he curls a delicious 25-yard strike into the top corner.
22’ – EMPOLI CHANCE! Roma only half clear a left-wing corner. Parisi keeps the attack alive and sends a ball back into the area where Martín Satriano rises and flashes a header against the foot of the post.
43’ – GOAL! – Empoli 1-1 Roma. Filippo Bandinelli stoops to meet a bouncing cross from the right and guide a superb header into the bottom corner.
49’ – ROMA CHANCE! Ibanez climbs well to meet Pellegrini’s clipped cross from the right, but his fine header is brilliantly hacked off the line.
70’ – EMPOLI CHANCE! It should be 2-1. Satriano races on to Akpa Akpro’s lovely through pass but can only stab wide of Rui Patricio’s right-hand post.
71’ – GOAL! – Empoli 1-2 Roma. Abraham arrives at the far post to squeeze a volley beyond the keeper after wonderful play by Dybala on the right.
80’ – ROMA PENALTY MISS! Pellegrini steps up and fires his spot kick against the crossbar. The penalty was awarded after Ibanez was tripped in the area.
85’ – EMPOLI CHANCE! Akpa-Akpro flashes a 30-yard strike against the post. So close to another equaliser for the hosts.
87’ – EMPOLI RED CARD! Akpa-Akpro is sent off for a high boot on Smalling after the referee was told to check the monitor by VAR.