By Brian Homewood
(Reuters) - Forced to play their home matches 300 kilometres from their own stadium and rely on loan deals and free transfers to boost their squad, promoted Spezia have nevertheless defied the odds in their debut season in Serie A.
The Ligurian club have so far managed to keep clear of the bottom of the table, are unbeaten in their last four games in all competitions and are a respectable 14th in the table, above established teams such as Fiorentina and Parma.
Their three defeats have all come against teams in the top five -- leaders AC Milan, titleholders Juventus and Sassuolo -- while they have held both Fiorentina and Parma to 2-2 draws.
They have another tough prospect on Saturday when they 'host' Lazio, although the match will be played at Cesena, on the other side of Italy, because Spezia's own Alberto Picco stadium is not yet up to Serie A standards.
After recent refurbishment, Spezia hope to start staging matches from the middle of the month.
"For every home game, we have to spend three hours on the bus to get to Cesena," said coach Vincenzo Italiano. "We have missed the sense of protection that your stadium gives you, even without a crowd."
Founded in 1906, Spezia have bounced back after being declared bankrupt in 2008 and last season won promotion through the playoff system.
Having clinched their place on Aug. 20, they had barely one month to patch together a team for the new season. In all, Spezia signed 19 new players although they spent a mere 5.5 million euros ($6.69 million).
Those signings included French striker M'bala Nzola, who has scored three goals in six appearances, attracting interest from several English Premier League clubs.
"We treat every match like a final and play with enthusiasm," said Italiano after last week's 2-2 draw against Cagliari. "We try to rotate and make everyone feel involved.
"The lads enjoy themselves on the pitch and I'm pleased about that, it's very satisfying. It seemed that we would struggle at this level but it hasn't been the case. We still have room to get better.
"I just ask the boys to maintain this enthusiasm and the confidence that has allowed us to achieve these results."
In other matches at the weekend, leaders AC Milan, who have a five-point advantage at the top, visit Sampdoria on Sunday while second-placed Inter Milan host Bologna on Saturday when Juventus, who have won four and drawn five of their nine games, entertain Torino.
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(Writing by Brian Homewood; Editing by Toby Davis)