Edinburgh’s winning start to the Guinness Pro14 under new coach Richard Cockerill came to a shuddering halt with a shock loss to Benetton at Myreside.
Two early tries from Chris Dean seemed to have Edinburgh on their way, but the frailties of recent seasons resurfaced and the Italians fought back from 14-0 down to take the points.
With testing trips to Scarlets and Irish big guns Leinster next up, Cockerill knows he has a job on his hands to lift his men and avoiding sliding into another losing slump.
The coach said: “If you are inaccurate, don’t look after the ball and don’t give the opposition the respect you should then you get unstuck and that’s exactly what happened. We were too sloppy.”
There was a disappointing start to the match for former Scotland Under-20 international and senior Italy cap Tommaso Allan, who was stretchered off in the opening minutes before Duncan Weir missed the first scoring opportunity with a wayward penalty.
The stand-off more than made amends for that moments later, however, as his last-ditch tackle in the corner prevented Tommaso Benvenuti scoring after he had pounced to intercept a loose pass from centre Dean.
The home No 13 soon wiped his ledger clean, too, as he hit a perfect line to take midfield partner Robbie Fruean’s perfect pop pass to scorch in down the right for the opening try, Weir converting well from wide. Dean doubled his tally with a far simpler effort after the Edinburgh forwards had pummelled the Italians deep in their own 22 and the 23-year-old was the first of several queueing up for the overlap and dived over after Weir, who converted again, put in the scoring pass.
In the 29th minute, Benetton hit back as wing Angelo Esposito barged over and Ian McKinley converted to half the deficit. The visitors then claimed the last points of the half as McKinley stroked over a penalty to leave Edinburgh disappointed to only be leading by four points at the break, especially after wing Jason Harries looked to have scored but was deemed to have knocked on over the line.
It went from bad to worse early in the second half when home captain Magnus Bradbury was sin-binned for slapping the ball out of scrum-half Edoardo Gori’s hands and McKinley landed the resultant penalty to make it just 14-13.
Blair Kinghorn, who had been in splendid form in the first two games, then had a rush of blood and threw a forward pass in his own 22. The Italians won the scrum and worked an overlap on the right and Esposito dotted down. McKinley’s conversion meant, incredibly, the Italians were now 20-14 up. A Weir penalty immediately pegged the home side back to within three points but Edinburgh struggled to make any inroads on their dogged opponents.
A similar second-half slump the previous Friday had seen the Dragons claw their way back into it before a late home surge but this was a far more troubling scenario.
Desperate Edinburgh pressing in the last five minutes saw them awarded penalties but opting for scrums to go for the win. Constant Italian infringing saw another couple pinged to the bin but Irish ref David Wilkinson was not for giving a penalty try. Edinburgh then went for the lineout route and a knock-on brought a dreadfully disappointing end to the proceedings.