Araujo-inspired AEK crush 10-man Panathinaikos
GREEK SUPERLEAGUE - MATCHDAY 26
|AEK||3 - 0||Panathinaikos|
A Sergio Araujo double and a Rodrigo Galo strike propelled Champions-elect AEK to a deserved 3-0 Athens derby win over 10-man Panathinaikos on Sunday as Manolo Jimenez’s team inched closer to a first SuperLeague title in 24 years.
Argentine forward Araujo, who has been one of the club’s talismanic figures this season, scored with an unstoppable first-half strike, while Galo finished off a flowing move down the left involving Tasos Bakasetas and Niklas Hult to end the match as a contest after half-time.
Araujo then added a third for AEK with a close-range tap-in after his initial header came back off the post to seal a comfortable and crucial three-point haul for the home side.
Panathinaikos were reduced to 10 men in between those two goals after Emanuel Insua saw red in the 34th minute for picking up two bookings, which made life incredibly hard for Marinos Ouzounidis’ team.
The result means AEK move two points clear of second-placed PAOK at the top of the table as things stand, but the official SuperLeague standings do not yet take into account the recent points deductions for PAOK and 3-0 win awarded to AEK as a result of the incidents in the cancelled match between the two teams last month.
Appeals against the disciplinary penalties will be heard this week, after which the table will be adjusted accordingly.
Spring was definitely in the air ahead of the kick-off at a sunny and expectant Olympic Stadium with AEK heading in to the match knowing that victory would leave them within touching distance of a first league title for 24 years.
However, there was no gung-ho approach in the opening minutes as both teams started cautiously, feeling each other out.
With all the recent controversy over crowd violence and points deductions for Olympiacos and PAOK, the threat of a FIFA ban for Greece and the suspension of the SuperLeague, it was easy to forget that this matchday 26 clash was an Athens derby.
With financially-troubled Panathinaikos way down in ninth place and not involved in the title race, perhaps some of the sting was taken out of what is usually a fierce affair.
But eight minutes in the Greens reminded AEK that they could not take anything for granted as Ousmane Coulibaly surged down the right wing before cutting inside and unleashing a vicious shot which was superbly tipped around the post for AEK goalkeeper Vasilis Barkas.
That was the wake up call AEK needed and they set about trying to forge some openings of their own, and the hosts almost made the breakthrough after 13 minutes.
It was a familiar route to goal or AEK, with right-winger Rodrigo Galo sending over a delicious cross for Sergio Araujo, who wriggled free to get a shot on goal but his effort was blocked brilliantly by Panathinaikos defender Dimitris Kolovetsios.
Araujo was not to be denied though in the 30th minute as AEK opened the scoring in sensational fashion.
Lazaros Christodoulopoulos lofted a delightful long pass up to the Argentine, who had two defenders on his back. The 26-year-old chested the ball turn on the turn while swiveling past Panathinaikos defender Emanuel Insua on the edge of the area, before then lashing an unstoppable half-volley past Odysseas Vlachodimos.
The goal was greeted with a seismic eruption among the 30,000 AEK fans which reverberated around the stadium as much in relief at the breakthrough as pure joy.
AEK’s night got even better just four minutes later as Insua completed a miserable night by getting himself sent off after he was booked for the second time in the match for a woefully late - and unnecessary - tackle on Araujo.
AEK made a strong start to the second half and Galo made it 2-0 with a simple low finish after neat interplay betwen Bakasetas and Hult, who provided the killer cross.
The AEK faithful were in full voice afterwards, sensing that the match was over as a contest and another three points were in the bag to help them inch closer to a long-awaited league title.
Christodoulopoulos was denied by the crossbar after a weaving run just a few minutes later as the match threatened to descend into a damage limitation exercise for Panathinaikos.
AEK did get a third goal and it came from Araujo, who showed quick reflexes to tap home on the volley from six yard after his initial headed effort from a corner came back off the post.