This was the biggest relegation dogfight of the season, as Davide Nicola’s run of four wins in five games saw them climb out of the bottom three for the first time since the opening weekend, leapfrogging the Sardinians by one point.
Cagliari made their debut under youth team coach Alessandro Agostini, having fired Walter Mazzarri this week in bitter circumstances. Nahitan Nandez picked up another injury, while the hosts missed Luca Ranieri and Mamadou Coulibaly, but started Luigi Sepe despite a badly bruised eye.
Leonardo Pavoletti had the first real chance, his diving header on a corner flashing wide of the far post, with Joao Pedro also testing Sepe on the counter.
Simone Verdi’s cross only skimmed the head of Milan Djuric, but the referee pointed to the spot when Grigoris Kastanos shrugged off one defender and tripped over Matteo Lovato’s foot. Verdi stepped up and sent Alessio Cragno the wrong way to convert.
During the chaos on the touchline as Salernitana celebrated, Franck Ribery was sent off.
Alberto Grassi came so close to an equaliser, his long-range scorcher smacking against the top of the upright with Sepe stranded.
Ederson nodded wide and Joao Pedro’s header was straight at Sepe, while Cragno’s gloves were stung by Kastanos.
There was huge drama deep into stoppages, as Sepe fumbled a cross, couldn’t control the second attempt and then Daniele Baselli was tripped at the third for a penalty. However, the referee changed his mind after the VAR on-field review, because Charalampos Lykogiannis had kicked the ball when Sepe had two hands on it.
Just as the game seemed to be over, Cagliari equalised anyway with a Giorgio Altare bullet header on a corner that went over the line despite Sepe getting a hand to it.
Salernitana 1-1 Cagliari
Verdi pen 68 (S), Altare 99 (C)
Sent off: Ribery 69 (S – bench)