Milan (AFP) - Roma can achieve "big things" this season but only if an ongoing fan boycott that has seen the Serie A title hopefuls play to a near empty Stadio Olimpico ends, said embattled coach Rudi Garcia.
Garcia was whistled and jeered by fans as his face appeared on the big screen prior to kick-off on Sunday, when Roma dug deep to end a four-game winless streak with a 2-0 win at home to Genoa.
The value of Roma's win became apparent when leaders Inter Milan suffered a shock 2-1 defeat at home to Lazio in the final Serie A game of 2015. Roma remain in fifth place but are now just four points adrift.
Garcia is said to be clinging to his job after Roma's failure to beat Bologna, Atalanta, Torino and, to a lesser extent, Napoli, and a scoreless draw at home to BATE Borisov in the Champions League.
Roma stopped the rot thanks to Alessandro Florenzi's first-half strike and 18-year-old Nigerian Umar Sadiq's first goal for the club in the dying minutes on Sunday.
But the French coach admitted victory chances would improve if fans stopped their boycott and started getting behind the team at the stadium.
"We scored when the stadium got behind us, that gave us the energy we needed for the second half. The fans are a big plus for us," said Garcia.
"I think we still have a chance of achieving big things in the second half of the season and I hope that happens with our fans in the stands.
"We're still in the hunt in Serie A and we're in the last 16 of the Champions League so there's plenty to look forward to."
Florenzi said he tried to ignore the abuse from disgruntled fans to "focus on the fans that started to sing for us" and called on fans to return to the Olimpico in the New Year.
"Some fans were booing at the start of the game but some started to get behind us even before my goal," he said.
Yet Roma's fans are digging their heels in over an issue that has angered and frustrated club president James Pallotta.
A large section of the club's hardline fans have been boycotting games since their beloved 'Curva' (Ends) were split in two. Often, the fans who have attended games have hurled abuse on the misfiring players.
"The Curva Sud are absent not because we did something wrong, but because they are fighting their own battle," added Florenzi in his post-match interview.
Pallotta said during a Twitter exchange with fans two months ago: "I am frustrated ... that while we try and find a solution, the team is being hurt by the decreased support at the stadium."
It didn't help the American's case that he exchanged directly with 'ultras', whom he had previously described as "idiots".
And now Pallotta has targeted the media he believes are not giving his side a fair crack of the whip.
When Roma were whistled off the pitch two weeks ago after squeezing into the last 16 of the Champions League following a dire display against BATE, Pallotta turned on reporters.
"At some point some of you guys have to grow up and start treating them with the respect they deserve," said Pallotta.
Roma resume league action on January 6 away to Chievo, and host AC Milan the following week in a fixture where fans' support could make the difference.
Florenzi added: "I hope our fans are back where they belong after the Christmas break – in the stadium with no barriers. Then they can be our 12th man again."