PAOK undone by late goal in Bratislava
UEFA EUROPA LEAGUE - PLAY OFFS (LEG 1)
PAOK’s hopes of qualifying for the Europa League group stages were dented on Thursday after they conceded a late goal in added time against Slovan Bratislava in Slovakia to lose the first leg of their playoff qualification tie 1-0.
PAOK were by far the dominant force at the Národný futbalový štadión in Bratislava, but despite creating a clutch of good scoring chances and hitting the woodwork, Abel Ferreira’s men were made to pay for mistakes in the closing minutes.
Slovan defender Myenty Abena scored the vital goal for the home side in the fourth minute of added time, prodding the ball home after PAOK goalkeeper Alexandros Paschalakis had fumbled a long ball.
While all is not lost for PAOK, who will be confident of turning things around in next week’s second leg at the Toumba in Thessaloniki, the result means that the tie is delicately balanced.
After the heartache of losing out to Ajax 5-4 on aggregate in the Champions League qualifiers, it was important for PAOK to ensure they had put that disappointment behind them for this vital clash as they looked to secure participation in the Europa League group stages for the second consecutive season.
PAOK came into this match against a Slovan team in tip top shape, the home side having won five out of five in their domestic championship. But after a cautious opening to the match, it was PAOK who came closest to scoring after seven minutes when Leo Jaba rattled the crossbar with a curler.
After that, both sides looked to control the tempo without quite managing it, and chances were at a premium in a closely-contested 45 minutes as both defences marshalled the respective forward lines well.
PAOK missed a great chance to take the lead in the first minute of the second half when Diego Biseswar worked the ball into space before crossing for Dimitris Pelkas. But the Greece international midfielder narrowly failed to connect with the ball, claiming afterwards that he’d been impeded by Slovan defender Vernon De Marco. The referee waved away Pelkas’ protests, however.
Pelkas had another chance to make the breakthrough for PAOK after 53 minutes, and although this time he did get a shot away, home keeper Dominik Greif made a great save to deny him.
Slovan, who had largely failed to trouble Alexandros Paschalakis’ goal, began to threaten as the second half wore on, but despite a few blocked shots and half chances, there was little in the way of clear scoring chances.
That was until the closing stages when the home side, spurred on by their fans, tried desperately to find a winning goal. There was a good chance passed up in the 86th minute by Marin Ljubičić, who was denied by Paschalakis’ save.
Paschalkis’ hands were not so safe in the fourth minute of added time when a long clearance upfield from his opposite number in the Slovan goal Greif slipped from his grasp and fell for Abena to score what could be a crucial goal.
SVB: 1 Greif (GK), 6 de Kamps, 7 Rharsalla, 8 M. Ljubičić, 9 Šporar, 14 Abena, 17 Medveděv, 27 Holman, 29 Bozhikov ©, 77 Čavrić, 81 De Marco
PAOK: 31 Paschalakis (GK), 3 Léo Matos, 5 Varela, 7 El Kaddouri, 10 Pelkas ©, 15 Crespo, 21 Biseswar, 23 Giannoulis, 24 Esiti, 47 Akpom, 98 Léo Jabá