MILAN, March 10 (Reuters) - Serie A top-scorer Edinson Cavani has hit the sort of barren patch which strikers dread when, no matter what they do, the ball seemingly refuses to go in the net.
The Uruguayan completed his eighth game in all competitions without scoring on Sunday as Napoli lost 2-0 at Chievo, a goal drought which has coincided with his team's drop in form.
A missed second-half penalty summed up the Uruguayan's plight, although a similar performance on another afternoon might easily have ended with him celebrating a hat-trick.
"There are moments when the ball just does not want to go in, look at the penalty and Christian Puggioni's save," Napoli coach Walter Mazzarri told reporters.
"This sort of spell, where nothing goes right, happens every year."
Cavani had averaged more than one goal a game this season until the end of January, when his late winner ended Parma's unbeaten home record.
Napoli, three points behind leaders Juventus at the time, have fallen nine points adrift and are now in danger of losing second place, which guarantees a place in next season's Champions League, to AC Milan.
In between, they suffered an embarrassing Europa League exit at the hands of Czech side Viktoria Plzen.
Cavani had an early chance on Sunday when he collected a long ball forward on the edge of the penalty area, only to see his left-foot shot saved by Puggioni.
His frustration mounted when his low free kick was tipped away at the last minute by the goalkeeper, who saw it at the last second after it passed through a forest of legs.
Events early in the second half, when Chievo were already 2-0 ahead, confirmed it was not to be his day.
Cavani sent one effort on the turn hopelessly high and wide, the inadvertently blocked a goalbound shot from a team mate. Hopes were raised when he won a penalty, only to see his low and powerful effort brilliantly turned away by Puggioni.
He had one last try with a powerful volley, but Puggioni was again equal to it and produced another reflex save.
"The training staff studied his penalties during the week and I chose the right angle and it worked out," said Puggioni, clearly delighted.
"He's a great champion and sportsman and I asked him for his shirt after the match. You don't save a penalty from that sort of player every day."
Mazzarri said Napoli were still doing better than expected this season especially after Ezequiel Lavezzi, who formed a lethal partnership with Cavani, joined Paris St Germain.
"At the start of the season, we talked about being in the top five, and we are second, we're having a good season and have six more points than at the same stage last season," he said.
"It's frustrating when you slow down like this but I'm convinced that it we stayed together and, if we score a goal or two, things will quickly get better." (Reporting By Brian Homewood, editing by Ed Osmond)