A second-half goal from Marek Hamsik saw Napoli shrug off the absence of Edinson Cavani to win 1-0 at Cagliari and go second in Serie A.
Hamsik struck against the run of play in a period that the hosts had dominated, with the visiting side on the back foot after shading the opening 45 minutes.
Cagliari piled bodies forward in search of an equaliser, but Daniele Conti’s near miss was the closest they came while Napoli could have added a second but for good goalkeeping from Michael Agazzi.
An even first half saw both sides create good opportunities, with the hosts having more efforts on goal while the visitors carved out the better opportunities.
The most clear-cut came midway through the first half as young Napoli striker Lorenzo Insigne hit the inside of the post with a screamer from outside the box.
Standing in for suspended talisman Cavani, the 5’4” Insigne should have done better later in the half when he found the side netting with one effort, while letting a fantastic Valon Behrami cross through his legs after a quick free-kick.
Cagliari, meanwhile, had resorted to simulation as they tried to create a clear-cut chance, Conti fortunate to escape caution when he tumbled over, with Marco Sau less fortunate and booked when he was adjudged to have dived.
Conti was somewhat more effective later on, sending a header on to the post via a deflection, while in first-half stoppage time Danilo Avelar’s audacious lob went just over after a poor kick from Napoli keeper Morgan De Sanctis.
The hosts had started to take charge of the game, a pattern that continued into the second half as Radja Nainggolan forced a smart save from De Sanctis with a low effort.
Then Cagliari hit the woodwork, although it was via the boot of Napoli’s sliding skipper Paolo Cannavaro, who diverted a Conti cross over his own keeper and off the bar.
They were threatening with almost every attack, Nainggolan volleying just wide from an Albin Ekdal cross, but the introduction of Edu Vargas on 68 minutes changed the shape of Napoli’s attack, and the game.
The Chilean forward had just put over after Michael Agazzi kept out a goal-bound corner, and he was involved again as his pass was deflected off Edkal – under pressure from Insigne – to land for Hamsik, who powered his finish home.
The Slovakia playmaker would have been fractionally offside, except Ekdal and not Insigne got the final touch, the goal against the run of play in the half.
Cagliari tried to respond but, for all their possession and a string of set-plays, the best they could muster was when Conti volleyed wide from a corner.
Vargas almost doubled their lead on the break too, Hamsik’s fine ball sending him through but a brave Agazzi dived at his feet to deny him.
There was controversy at the final whistle as home players surrounded the referee after he blew for time just as they had won a corner, but Napoli had the win that puts them second after Internazionale lost at Parma later on Monday.