Shell-shocked Roma’s title hopes were kept in check by a chastening 2-0 home defeat to Atalanta on Sunday that has piled further pressure on the club’s French coach Rudi Garcia.

Roma were firmly in the title hunt, comfortably in fourth place and three points behind leaders Inter Milan, going into their first league game since a humiliating 6-1 defeat to Barcelona in the Champions League on Tuesday.

But the Serie A hopefuls, still missing forwards Gervinho and Mohamed Salah, looked uninterested on their way to a third defeat of the campaign that kept them in fourth but now in danger of seeing their gap on leaders Inter grow to six points.

The hosts showed plenty of enterprise in a promising first half but paid for several misses when Alejandro Gomez struck and German Denis doubled Atalanta’s lead from the spot at the death.

Bosnian midfielder Miralem Pjanic got a sniff on 18 minutes when his angled strike brought a fine one-handed save from Marco Sportiello in the Atalanta goal.

Pjanic was in the thick of it again just after the half hour when Edin Dzeko first-timed his chip from just inside the area only to see it flash over with Sportiello at full stretch.

Roma were pressing and, after the ball fell kindly to Juan Iturbe outside the area, the Argentinian’s drive from 35 yards inched just over Sportiello’s crossbar.

Roma looked to be in command but the Stadio Olimpico was stunned into silence five minutes before the interval when French left-back Lucas Digne gave possession away cheaply.

Digne’s blind effort to clear up the right flank instead gifted possession to Alejandro Gomez, whose drive from 35 yards out beat Morgan De Sanctis at the ‘keeper’s far top corner.

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Pjanic came close to levelling eight minutes after the restart only to see his glancing header from a corner cleared off the line by Luca Cigarini.

But a confident Atalanta were soon in command, and De Sanctis had to be at his best on the hour mark to stop Maxi Moralez on a one-on-one after the Argentinian had been sent through by Radja Nainggolan’s mistimed header.

Garcia replaced Iago Falque with reserve team player Umar Sadiq two minutes later, while right-back Alessandro Florenzi made way for Maicon on 70 minutes.

But it was to get even worse for Roma after the big Brazilian, 10 minutes after his arrival, saw red after a mistimed challenge on Gomez inside the area.

German Denis stepped up to beat De Sanctis from the penalty spot to double Atalanta’s lead on 82 minutes.

Even after Guglielmo Stendardo and Alberto Grassi saw red in the dying minutes for second bookable offences respectively to leave the visitors with nine men, it did little to dampen Atalanta’s post-match celebrations.

Roma remain three points behind Inter but could be six adrift if the Nerazzurri upset the form book to beat in-form Napoli, in second two points adrift, on Monday.

On Monday. Fiorentina, also just two points off the pace, are away to Sassuolo.

Roma’s loss means AC Milan remain fifth, only four points further back, after their 4-1 drubbing of Sampdoria on Saturday.

Champions Juventus are seventh, nine points behind Inter, ahead of their trip to Palermo later on Sunday, when Empoli host Lazio.

By AFP