AEK sent reeling by surprise goal scorer

AEK’s undefeated record at home this season came to an unlikely end last weekend at the hands of struggling Ionikos, whose 1-0 upset victory dropped the title contender from second to third place with two rounds of play remaining. Equally surprising was the shock result’s sole scorer, Antonis Natsouras. The 26-year-old defensive midfielder had not scored a single goal in 76 Greek first-division matches. Natsouras finally struck last Sunday three minutes from time to pull Ionikos away from the relegation zone and severely damaging AEK’s title hopes as well as a place in next season’s Champions League, reserved for the league’s top two clubs. Prior to Sunday’s loss, AEK held second place, a point behind front-runner Panathinaikos. It now lies third, two points behind leader Panathinaikos and a point behind Olympiakos, whose 3-1 win against Corfu club Kerkyra elevated the Piraeus team to second spot. Olympiakos could bolster its current position further, or possibly even take over at the top, as Panathinaikos and AEK clash this weekend. «I don’t feel a burden of any sort. The only thing on my mind is that my goal has made some impact on the league’s standings,» Natsouras told radio station Sport Time. «AEK lost ground in terms of the title and Champions League and Olympiakos climbed a spot. I still haven’t realized what happened. The feeling’s definitely very strange… Without a doubt, it was one of the happiest moments of my career, one that provided great joy after a long time, because I’ve been through plenty of bitterness,» added the player, formerly of Iraklis and Veria. He had last scored in a Cup game last summer, with his previous club, Iraklis. At AEK, club president Demis Nikolaidis, who took over last summer with the historic team in an administrative and financial shambles, told his players that both he and coach Fernando Santos were fully satisfied by the team’s course this season, irrespective of results in the remaining two games. Throughout the current season, Nikolaidis and Santos have insisted that the club was mainly building for the future. «We’re satisfied with your achievements this year. Keep your heads held high,» Nikolaidis told his club’s players following Sunday’s unanticipated loss. As for Ionikos, Natsouras, the goal scorer, said his team went into the game motivated for a constructive result that would keep the team a safe distance from the relegation zone. «The team hadn’t mathematically ensured its place in the top league so we had to play for victory,» noted Natsouras. Ionikos is now placed 10th in the 16-team competition, six points ahead of Aris, third from last on 28 points. The bottom three clubs get relegated. One point from its remaining two games would seal Ionikos’s place in the first division. On 19 and 16 points respectively, Ergotelis and Kerkyra, both newly promoted this season, have already lost their places in the big league.