Aris Thessalonica is in the hunt for top spot in the Greek Super League play-offs after defeating Olympiakos 2-0 at Kleanthis Vikelidis stadium.
A brace from American striker Eddie Johnson crafted a win for the Macedonian side on the opening day of the play-offs while at the same time, AEK and PAOK shared the spoils in a dour 0-0 match in Athens at OAKA.
Aris 2 – Olympiakos 0
Barely days after a heart-breaking Greek Cup Final loss to Panathinaikos, Aris has bounced back to take the bull by the horns and signal its intentions to the three other play-off sides.
The home side overturned a defeat to Olympiakos from just a few weeks ago, despite having a Sergio Koke penalty stopped early in the second half.
While their fortunes ran high when Antonis Nikopolidis denied the Aris captain from the spot, the woodwork got the better of Bozidar Bandovic’s men after Raul Bravo and Matt Derbyshire were rejected by the frame of Michalis Sifakis’ goal.
It was the hosts who looked the most likely to score as Hector Raul Cuper’s men foreshadowed a breakthrough in Thessaloniki when Koke sent an effort agonisingly wide of Nikopolidis’ net just past the half hour mark.
Aris’ pressure continued through Darcy Dolce Neto but the Brazilian left the home side ruing a missed chance as he fired a long distance effort marginally wide of the Olympiakos goal.
Eight minutes later, however, and there was only one emotion for the home crowd to display. Freddy Adu appeared to be too much for Olympiakos wing-back Giorgos Galitsios as the American dribbled his way clear of the Greek defender before picking out an unmarked Johnson inside the box.
With his marker nowhere to be seen, the on-loan Fulham FC striker thumped his header past a stranded Nikopolidis to give Aris a 1-0 advantage on thirty-nine minutes.
Olympiakos looked for a response soon after, and the visiting ‘Erythrolefki’ nearly found one through Raul Bravo.
The Spaniard came within inches of redeeming himself after he had let Johnson win a free-header for the goal just minutes before.
On this occasion, the ex-Real Madrid CF defender showed aggression as he attempted to surprise Sifakis with a long-ranged effort from the left-flank.
The ball swerved past the Greek custodian but replays suggest Sifakis got just enough of a tip on the ball to push it onto the post before the rebound was cleared by a scrambling Aris defence.
With his clean sheet still intact, Sifakis led his ranks into the interval knowing a similar effort in the second frame would inject life into the club’s UEFA Champions League aspirations.
It was Olympiakos who started out the better side, however. Half-time substitute Matt Derbyshire took just seven minutes to make an impression as the Englishman nearly pulled Olympiakos level on fifty-two minutes.
Dribbling clear in the centre of the pitch, the former Blackburn Rovers FC forward forced the best out of Sifakis as he rifled a hard shot from distance. Sifakis’ sharp reflexes continued to frustrate the visitors though as he pushed the ball off the crossbar and out for a corner.
The evening then appeared to bring more misery for the travelling contingent as Galitsios further showed inability to keep up with Adu as he took down the on-loan United States international inside the Olympiakos box.
Fortunately for his side, Nikopolidis’ reflexes were still in check as the veteran Greek shot-stopper denied Koke a second Aris goal.
The miss nearly proved disastrous for Aris as an Olympiakos attack, instigated by a punctual back-heel from Enzo Maresca, saw Konstantinos Mitroglou deposit Lomana Lua Lua’s centring pass into the Aris goal.
Despite sparking pandemonium in the Olympiakos end of the stadium, the goal was disallowed on a suspicion of offside.
The hour mark brought another chance for Olympiakos as Olof Mellberg forced Sifakis to stretch in order to deflect the Swede’s looping header over the crossbar.
The former Aston Villa FC centre-back was not as efficient at the other end as a poor back-pass to Nikopolidis in stoppage-time was intercepted by Johnson, and subsequently made tragic as the American slotted his second of the match past a stranded Nikopolidis to confirm three points for the hosts.
The win moves Aris within one-point of first place in the play-offs, Olympiakos still hold top spot with four points but now find themselves level with PAOK after their 0-0 draw with AEK earlier in the day.
AEK 0 – PAOK 0
A 0-0 draw with AEK in the latest derby of the ‘Dikefale’ was enough for PAOK to pull level with rivals Olympiakos CFP for top spot in the Greek Super League play-offs.
A scoreless stalemate in the Greek capital kicked off the Super League’s play-off schedule as all eyes turned to Athens for Wednesday’s matinee match at the OAKA Spyros Louis Stadium.
A physical encounter produced very little scoring opportunities for either side, but for the chances that did arise, wastefulness in front of goal proved to be the decisive factor for both outfits.
Limited creativity was another variable that determined the match’s final score, particularly in the second half where rash tackles got the better of any offensive endeavour.
A goal keeping error by Kostas Chalkias, who bobbled a simple effort in front of Ismael Blanco, went unpunished as PAOK pounced on the rebound given up by the Greece international before an AEK player could make their move.
The final whistle confirmed both teams deservingly shared the points, as AEK increase their point output to two points while PAOK now have four points, good enough for a tie in first-place.
PAOK will look to improve their assault on top spot when they host local arch-rivals Aris at the Toumba Stadium, the same day AEK visits Olympiakos in Piraeus.