Late winner widens champ’s lead

A well-struck shot by Ierocles Stoltidis from within the box three minutes from time gave Olympiakos a valuable 1-0 away win over mid-table Ionikos yesterday that increased the front-runner’s lead in Greek soccer’s first division from one point to three. Second-placed AEK saw its nine-match winning streak come to an end at Xanthi, where the formidable provincial side, an earlier front-runner in Greek soccer’s first division this season, kept the title contender to a scoreless draw in a toughly contested encounter. As suggested by the score, the defense lines of both sides dominated the game. Leader Olympiakos is on 39 points from 15 rounds of play. AEK lies second on 36 points and Panathinaikos third with 30 points. Fanis Gekas scored two goals and Alexandros Tziolis added another to lead Panathinaikos over Larissa 3-0 Saturday. The victory marked the resumption of play after a three-week winter break. In Saturday’s other game, Aegaleo beat Panionios 1-0. In other games played yesterday, mid-table Atromitos beat struggling Akratitos 2-0. Playing at home, the league’s bottom club Kallithea held UEFA Cup berth contender Iraklis to a scoreless draw. In a bottom-end battle, Levadiakos defeated visiting Cretan club OFI 1-0. A lively Larissa caught Panathinaikos by surprise in the opening stages and almost took the lead in the 13th minute when a powerful left-foot shot by Cyprus midfielder Stathis Aloneftis struck the crossbar and rebounded off the line. Panathinaikos, which got off to a sluggish start, had two chances in three minutes, the first of these coming in the 25th. Larissa quickly countered and continued to trouble Panathinaikos, forcing a pair of saves by Aloneftis and Dennis Serban. Panathinaikos improved its game and Gekas hit the post in the 36th with only goalkeeper Stefanos Kotsolis to beat. The hosts were denied by the woodwork again in the 44th, when Papadopoulos headed Charalambidis’s cross on to the post. A header by Gekas in the 57th gave Panathinaikos the lead. He doubled the margin in the 77th with a right-foot volley before Tziolis sealed the victory with a blistering shot from 40 meters in the 82nd. Round 15 will be completed today when Apollon Kalamaria greets fellow Thessaloniki club PAOK. (AP, Kathimerini)

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