Panathinaikos retains lead

Nikos Lymberopoulos scored in the 52nd minute yesterday as Panathinaikos beat PAOK 1-0 and remained on top of the Greek first division. It was Panathinaikos’s sixth win in a row and its 13th unbeaten match since Uruguayan coach Sergio Markarian returned to the club late in October. After the 16th round, which marked the start of the season’s second half, Panathinaikos now has 35 points, two ahead of rival Olympiakos Piraeus. The Piraeus squad hammered Kallithea 4-1 away with Stelios Yiannakopoulos grabbing a hat trick. Dimitris Nalitzis also scored a hat trick to give AEK a 3-2 home victory over Aegaleo. AEK stays in fourth place with 29 points, one behind PAOK. The highlight of the match was the return to the AEK squad of star striker Demis Nikolaidis. His appearance came just two days after the resignation of the entire AEK executive board, headed by the cousin of the club’s controversial owner, Makis Psomiadis. The 29-year-old player kept his promise to rejoin if the Psomiadis family ceased playing any role in club operations. Earlier this week, a public prosecutor charged Psomiadis with slandering and threatening Nikolaidis during an unannounced visit to the player’s home on January 14, allegedly to check on reports that the international striker was staying out late. In other matches played yesterday, it was: Aris 1, Panachaiki 1; Ionikos 1, Panionios 2; and Ioannina 2, Proodeftiki 1. On Saturday, OFI beat Iraklis 3-1 and struggling Akratitos surprisingly defeated Xanthi 2-1. Panathinaikos played at the Apostolos Nikolaidis stadium in front of its fans only. Police prohibited the presence of PAOK supporters in an effort to avert possible crowd trouble. The hosts were more aggressive from the start, almost scoring in the 19th when Dionysis Hasiotis cleared a shot by Finnish striker Joonas Kolkka off the line. Three minutes earlier, PAOK goalkeeper Kyriakos Tohouroglou saved a Lymberopoulos header. In the 52nd, Lymberopoulos gained the ball in PAOK’s area, dribbled past Polish defender Mariusz Kulkielka and netted the game’s winner. In the 80th, Takis Fyssas prevented PAOK’s equalizer by clearing a shot from Panayiotis Engomitis off his own goal line. With French midfielder Christian Karembeu back in action after a leg injury and newly signed Slovenian international Dzoni Novak making his debut, Olympiakos easily trounced Kallithea 4-1. Host Kallithea played with four of its key players sidelined because of injuries. The rain-drenched pitch and strong winds did not stop the visitors and defending league champions from controlling play. Olympiakos took the lead with Yiannakopoulos’s first goal in the 29th. Two minutes into the second period, Yiannakopoulos made it 2-0 off a pass from Yugoslav midfielder Predrag Djordjevic. In the 55th, Yiannakopoulos pulled off a hat trick with his 10th goal of the season. Just one minute later, Lambros Houtos stretched the lead to 4-0. Elton Koga scored a consolation goal for Kallithea in the 90th. (AP)

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