Panathinaikos takes lead as rival slips

A late goal by Romanian midfielder Lucian Sanmartean gave Panathinaikos a 1-0 away victory over crosstown Panionios yesterday. The win helped to end Olympiakos Piraeus’s 16-round run at the top of the first division. In the most important game of the 23rd round, Olympiakos lost 1-0 at home to AEK and dropped to second place with 56 points, two behind bitter rival Panathinaikos. Olympiakos, winner of the last seven league titles, has been at the top since mid-October. The championship is expected to be determined in three weeks’ time when Panathinaikos hosts Olympiakos. With a goal by Serbian midfielder Sladan Spasic, PAOK beat Kallithea 1-0 in Athens to retain third place with 50 points. Halkidona, promoted to the top division this season for the first time in its 73-year history, beat Iraklis 1-0 at home yesterday to mark its 12th victory and remain a contender for a berth in the UEFA Cup. In other results yesterday: Xanthi 2, Proodeftiki 2 and Aris 1, Ionikos 1. On Saturday, OFI beat Akratitos 2-1 and Aegaleo defeated Paniliakos 4-1. In its clash against AEK, Olympiakos appeared disorganized and out of focus. The score could have been higher for AEK had Cyprus striker Yiannis Okkas and Vassilis Lakis not both failed to beat Olympiakos keeper Kleopas Yiannou with lobs. Lakis made up for this miss by scoring the game’s winner in the 85th minute off a perfect pass from Vassilis Tsiartas. Lakis calmly beat Yiannou one-on-one inside the area. Olympiakos almost equalized only two minutes later when a Lambros Houtos shot hit AEK’s post. In the dying minutes of the game, referee Giorgos Kasnaferis awarded Olympiakos a penalty after Brazilian striker Giovanni went down in the AEK area. But seconds afterward, the referee dramatically changed his mind to the disappointment of 14,000 Olympiakos supporters. Panathinaikos was more aggressive against Panionios and came close to taking the lead in the 39th when a powerful header by Yiannis Goumas, off a corner kick by Angelos Basinas, hit the Panionios crossbar. In the 74th, Costas Halkias made a spectacular save to a blistering Alexander Tziolis shot from far outside the Panathinaikos area. Ten minutes later, Sanmartean, who had replaced Lithuanian midfielder Raimondas Zutautas in the 46th, dribbled past two Panionios players on the edge of the area. His precise shot beat Jaroslav Drobny for the game’s winner. Almost immediately afterward, the match was suspended for 12 minutes after minor clashes in the stands between scores of Panionios fans and police. (AP)

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