CHRISTOPHER ANDERSON - Monday, January 25, 2010
Eddie Johnson and the Thessalonians continued their fine form in this month so far as they held the Athenian giants to a scoreless draw on Sunday afternoon at home.
Johnson saw second half action in the deadlock and nearly netted his first goal in Greece, while Freddy Adu awaited his debut for a second game.
Aris head coach Hector Raul Cuper opted to continue with his strikeforce of Javier Campora and Toni Calvo up top, and brought in Johnson for Sergio Koke in the 68th minute instead of Campora.
The visitors dominated possession throughout the first half and nearly opened the scoring off a Giorgios Karagounis freekick in the 20th minute. The 25 yarder found Gilberto Silva at the top of the 6-yard box for a header that Aris keeper Michalis Sifakis coolly tapped over the bar into safety. Dimitris Salpingidis connected with the ensuing corner, but skied the strike from ten yards out.
The Athenians' Lazaros Christodoulopoulos created a chance of his own in the 34th minute, partly thanks to a leveling elbow on Aris midfielder Javito, and delivered a curling strike just over the bar.
The hosts' defense found themselves on their heels again seven minutes later following a failed clearance from Brazilian defender Darcy Dolce Neto, who was picked off by the dangerous Christodoulopoulos for a shot in the goal box that struck Sifakis' arm and rebounded out of play.
Aris thought they had been awarded a penalty kick a dozen minutes into the second half after Javito fell over the oncoming Gilberto Silva. Referee Ilias Spathas let play continue, one of the many questionable decisions in the deadlock.
With both Adu and Johnson warming up, Cuper turned towards the latter for a breakthrough goal to steal a victory from the league-leaders. The Fulham loanee replaced Koke with a little over twenty minutes to go, and immediately threatened Alexandros Tzorvas.
Coming off a midfield feed, Johnson headed over to Javier Campora driving down the left flank, incidently offsides, and managed a delivery that caromed of the post behind the Athenian keeper. Johnson pounced on the loose ball at the top of the area, delivering an on-target strike that inspired a nimble diving save from Tzoras to deflect the would-be goal over the crossbar.
Djibril Cissé got into the action with twenty minutes to go with a diving header ten yards in front of the net, but his shot went wide right and his calls for a penalty went unheard.
Both netminders put in brilliant performances befitting an entertaining drought of goals. Sifakis had the last laugh of the match after deflecting a powerful 30 yard on-target screamer from Kostas Katsouranis, to preserve the point.
Although the result maintains the 16-point gap from the top, the Gods of War find themselves eight points from cross-town club PAOK, who pulled the carpet from Olympiakos's second position with a 1-0 win.
The Thessanonians turn east on Sunday at 2:30 local time for a must-win match against eleventh-place holders Xanthi, coming off an embarrassing 1-1 stalemate at Panthrakikos.