So close yet so far for AEK
UEFA EUROPA LEAGUE - PLAY OFFS (LEG 2)
AEK crashed out of Europe on Thursday on a bad night for Greek football despite producing a much-improved display to defeat Trabzonspor 2-0 in Turkey, with the home side going through on away goals after the tie ended 3-3 on aggregate.
Marko Livaja’s strike and a Petros Mantalos penalty put crisis-hit AEK, who sacked coach Miguel Cardoso just six days ago, to within one goal of overturning the deficit and completing a remarkable comeback.
Stand-in boss Nikos Kostenoglou clearly managed to rally the squad for a brilliant performance, but it was just short of pulling off the minor miracle required, and Tranbzonspor will take their place in the group stage at AEK’s expense.
The result is another blow for Greek football, with PAOK also going out of the same competition earlier by the same way at the Toumba after their tie with Slovan Bratislava also ended 3-3, with the away team winning on away goals.
Before a ball was kicked, many expected this to be an evenly-matched tie, but Trabzonspor took a huge step towards the group stage with a resounding 3-1 triumph at the Olympic Stadium last week with AEK in turgid form.
But this time, with Cardoso gone and Kostenoglou in the dugout, AEK seemed to show more fighting spirit and the Kitrinomavri were ahead in the 24th minute.
The goal came about after AEK’s Portuguese striker Nelson Oliveira pressured the home rearguard, with Livaja then intercepting possession and skipping past a Trabzonspor defender before firing a clinical finish home.
Just four minutes later AEK were in dreamland as they were awarded a penalty. After a great run by Helder Lopes, the lively Oliveira surged into the penalty area and was upended illegally by Nigeria midfielder Jon Obi Mikel.
Mantalos stepped up to slot the spot-kick confidently passed Trabzonspor goalkeeper Uğurcan Çakır.
That gave AEK the perfect platform to go on and score more goals to overturn the contest, but despite long spells and pressure and numerous chances, the home side managed to hold on.
In the 54th minute AEK also had a let-off when a deflected shot from Nigerian forward Anthony Nwakaeme hit the crossbar and bounced to safety.
Despite a late flurry of corners and throwing players forward in a desperate attempt to get the one goal they needed to win the tie, AEK failed to get on the score sheet again and they will have to wait until next season to try again for European football.
In added time AEK’s misery was complete with the sending off of Lopes for a late challenge.
Trabzonspor: 1 Uğurcan Çakır (GK), 8 Sosa ©, 9 Nwakaeme, 10 Abdülkadir Ömür, 12 Mikel, 14 Ivanildo Fernandes, 18 Ekuban, 22 Campi, 47 João Pereira, 61 Parmak, 77 Novák
AEK: 1 Barkas (GK), 2 Bakakis, 3 Hélder Lopes, 4 Oikonomou, 5 Nélson Oliveira, 8 André, Simões, 10 Livaja, 19 Chygrynskiy, 20 Mantalos ©, 21 Vranješ, 25 Galanopoulos