Reds help AEK end pitch battle

AEK will play Scottish Cup winner Dundee United in the second leg of its Europa League playoff at Olympiakos’s Karaiskaki Stadium tonight after the venue for the game was changed for a second time because rival fans sabotaged the pitch. AEK agreed yesterday with rivals Olympiakos that it could use its stadium for the match on the proviso that the Yellows’ fans would not be allowed to attend the game due to fears that they would clash with the Reds’ supporters. This means that only some 600 Dundee United fans who have traveled from Scotland will watch tonight’s game. The chairman of the visiting club, Steven Thompson, has described this week’s events as «a joke» and «a shambles» after AEK was forced to switch the venue for the match twice. The game was originally scheduled to take place at the Olympic Stadium in Athens. However, it was decided following a friendly game there on Sunday that the turf wasn’t up to scratch for a game of professional soccer to be played on it. This prompted AEK to scramble to find an alternative venue. Initially, the Panthessaliko Stadium in Volos, central Greece, was suggested but the rules of the Europa League prevented such a switch. Then, AEK proposed holding the match at the ground of fellow Super League side Atromitos Athens but this stadium was deemed unsafe. On Tuesday, AEK agreed with another team from the capital to use its Nea Smyrni Stadium. The move was given the go-ahead by European soccer’s governing body, UEFA, but nobody had accounted for a group of hardcore Panionios fans who were irate that their team’s ground would be used by a rival side. Some supporters broke into the stadium on Tuesday night and used spades and other gardening tools to dig up the playing surface to ensure that the game could not go ahead there. This prompted AEK to seek another venue at the eleventh hour and, fortunately for the Yellows, who are leading Dundee United 1-0 from the first leg, Olympiakos obliged.