Panathinaikos overcomes AEK 2-1 in Athens match to retain top spot

Nikos Lymberopoulos scored his seventh league goal of the season as Panathinaikos beat AEK 2-1 at home yesterday to remain at the top of Greece’s first division. After 18 rounds, Panathinaikos has 41 points, keeping its two-point lead over archrival and defending champion Olympiakos. Olympiakos marked its 11th league win with a 2-1 victory over Iraklis at home. Predrag Djordjevic opened the scoring in the 37th minute and Lambros Houtos netted the winner in the 82nd. PAOK defeated Kallithea 2-0 in Athens to retain third place with 36 points. AEK dropped from fourth to fifth place with 32 points and its championship chances now look slim. The cash-strapped club – a regular title contender – played without keeper Dionysis Chiotis, injured in a midweek Cup match. But Vassilis Tsartas made his first appearance since a well-publicized rift with AEK’s former owner Makis Psomiadis that kept the international midfielder sidelined for more than a month. In other results yesterday it was: Panachaiki 0, Panionios 2; OFI 2, Akratitos 0; and Aris 2, Aegaleo 1. On Saturday, Xanthi beat Proodeftiki 1-0 and Ionikos marked its first home win by defeating Ioannina 2-0. Needing a victory to stay on top, Panathinaikos charged forward from kickoff. In the 16th minute, replacement AEK keeper Chrysostomos Michailidis saved a blistering shot from Giorgos Karagounis. In the 33rd, the 10,000 Panathinaikos supporters at the Apostolos Nikolaidis stadium saw Nikos Lymberopoulos give Panathinaikos the lead. He received a pass from Emmanuel Olisadebe and beat the AEK defense to tap in a close-range shot – his fourth goal in three consecutive league games. But the fans’ joy lasted for just four minutes as AEK’s Christos Maladenis leveled with a right-foot drive from outside the box. In the second half, both teams fought hard to score. In the 69th, Panathinaikos’s Finnish striker Joonas Kolkka gained a penalty which Angelos Basinas confidently converted, making the final 2-1. Three minutes before the whistle, AEK’s forward Dimitris Nalitzis got the red card for deliberately elbowing Sotiris Kyriakos. Ukraine’s Oleg Protasov made a successful debut as Olympiakos’s coach in yesterday’s match against Iraklis. Protasov is the Piraeus club’s fourth coach this season. The former Soviet Union international played with Olympiakos in the early 1990s and was recently a scout for the club. Protasov replaced Srecko Katanec who was sacked Friday just three months after his appointment. The club accused the Slovenian of making public comments which hurt the team’s reputation and undermined players’ morale. Under Katanec, Olympiakos won seven games, drew four and lost one, against Panathinaikos. In the 37th, Djordjevic gave Olympiakos the lead with a close-range shot. The Yugoslav striker gained the ball after a melee in the Iraklis area and netted his eighth goal of the season. Brazilian forward Ederson silenced more than 8,000 Olympiakos supporters in the 56th when he leveled the score with a superb lob over Kateryiannakis. Eight minutes before the end, Houtos headed in the winner off a center from Djordjevic. (AP)