Panathinaikos fights back from the dead

Panathinaikos struck four times late in the game to snatch an astonishing and valuable 4-2 away victory against struggling Panionios last night that keeps alive the ambitious club’s jeopardized hopes of a Champions League berth next season. The win kept Panathinaikos within six points of second-place AEK, which also won, 1-0, against Larissa yesterday. AEK, which earned its victory with a Costas Katsouranis goal in the 13th minute, lies three points behind front-runner Olympiakos. But the Piraeus club, which is hosted by bottom-place Akratitos tonight in Round 19’s final game, can maintain its six-point lead with victory. AEK and defending champion Olympiakos meet next week in what will be a make-or-break affair for AEK if the club is to seriously challenge for top spot. Olympiakos has 48 points with tonight’s game in hand; AEK lies second on 45 points, and Panathinaikos third on 39. Iraklis is placed a distant fourth on 31 points, a point ahead of fifth-place PAOK. All started well for relegation-threatened Panionios last night. Brazilian Luciano, who recently switched from Xanthi, opened the scoring for Panionios in the 48th minute. An own goal in the 61st minute made it a seemingly safe 2-0 for Panionios. But Panathinaikos narrowed to 2-1 in the 72nd minute with a header from Ilias Kotsios. Striker Vangelis Mantzios made it 2-2 from close range in the 83rd minute. Fellow striker Fanis Gekas tapped in to put Panathinaikos ahead a minute before the end of regular time and Dimitris Papadopoulos completed the triumph two minutes into injury time after slotting past the keeper in a one-on-one encounter. In one of two games played Saturday, Iraklis overtook PAOK in fourth place with a 2-0 win at home after outplaying struggling Cretan club OFI, currently in the relegation zone. The Thessaloniki club could have emerged with a bigger win, but squandered several good scoring opportunities and struck the post twice. Giorgos Georgiadis opened for the hosts in the 14th minute and Joel Epale bolstered his club’s lead a little before halftime in the 40th minute. The Cretans failed to threaten from there on. Also Saturday, lowly Kallithea rebounded for a high-scoring draw, 3-3, against visiting mid-table Ionikos. The home team went ahead in the 27th minute but Ionikos made it 1-1 four minutes later. The away side scored again in the 38th minute for a 2-1 lead at halftime. Ionikos appeared set for victory after extending its lead to 3-1 in the 54th minute. Kallithea, struggling to survive in the first division, responded by reducing the deficit in the 73rd minute. Then, midfielder Ferreira Cleber made it 3-3 in the encounter’s closing stages with a sweetly struck free-kick over the wall. Returning to other games played yesterday, PAOK, burdened by a poor away record this season, slipped to fifth place following a 1-0 loss at Aegaleo. Nikos Nikolopoulos scored his team’s sole goal for victory in the 34th minute. In away performances this season, PAOK has lost five games, drawn four, and won just one, surprisingly against front-runner Olympiakos. Atromitos, still within striking distance of a UEFA Cup berth next season, and Apollon Kalamaria, several points clear of the domestic competition’s relegation zone, drew 1-1. In a subdued game that produced few scoring opportunities, Atromitos, the home side, took the lead in the 22nd minute, but Apollon Kalamaria equalized in the 60th minute. Provincial club Xanthi, an early front-runner in the competition now aspiring to an UEFA Cup place, registered a valuable 2-0 win at Levadiakos. Both clubs had a player sent off. Xanthi took the lead in the 24th minute with a powerful free-kick from French defender Jacques Paviot. The visitor added its second 12 minutes later when midfielder Alexis Garpozis found the net after two scoring attempts. A minute later, in the 36th, the home team was left with 10 players after Paraskevas Andralas was sent off for an unfair tackle. Xanthi was also reduced to 10 men later in the game, in the 70th minute, when goalscorer Paviot struck hard on Miguel Mea Vitali.

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