CAGLIARI, April 20 (Serie A) - Cagliari gave their Serie A survival hopes a major boost with victory over over basement boys Empoli on Sunday despite finishing the game with nine men.
A goal in each half from Robert Acquafresca and Michele Fini moved the home side five points clear of the bottom three and pushed their opponents a step closer to the trapdoor.
Cagliari could even afford to have both Fini, for whipping his shirt off in celebration, and Francesco Pisano sent off.
Despite slipping to their 18th defeat of a desperate season, Empoli moved up a place on goal difference, Reggina replacing them at the foot of the table after their hammering by AC Milan.
Cagliari could have been ahead in the eighth minute when Lino Marzoratti was forced to hack the ball clear from inside the Empoli area after a mix-up between keeper Daniele Balli and his defenders.
But that last-ditch clearance just delayed the inevitable as the Sardinians went ahead a minute later.
Acquafresca collected Alessandro Agostini long ball's inside the area with his back to goal before spinning and unleashing a shot low into the net.
Luca Saudati had a chance to pull Empoli level after being played in by Luca Antonini, but his weak shot was easily stopped by Cagliari stopper Marco Storari.
Saudati had another sight of goal in first-half stoppage time but this time he fired over from the edge of the area.
And the Empoli striker made it a hat-trick of opportunities wasted when his effort under pressure cleared the crossbar after a free-kick had picked him out in the area.
Cagliari nearly doubled their lead following a swift counter-attack, but Neves Jeda was denied by a fine recovering tackle from Claudio Marchisio.
The hosts did make it two in the 64th minute though, Fini shooting high into the top corner after latching on to Acquafresca's knock-down.
But the goalscorer's joy was short-lived as he was dismissed moments later, shown a second yellow card for taking off his shirt in celebration.
Francesco Pisano joined his team-mate for an early bath in the 78th minute after he too collected a second booking, this time for arguing with Saudati.
The Empoli man was also booked for his part in the altercation.
With a two-man advantage, the away side pushed forward in search of a way back into the contest and substitute Sebastian Giovinco forced an instinctive save from Storari with a shot from Ignazio Abate's left-wing cross.
Rey Volpato also fired over for the visitors deep into stoppage time, but by then Cagliari were home and dry.