RECAP: AEK ATHENS 1 - 0 ARIS SALONIKI
The Athenian hosts outlasted a Thessalonian attack that eventually ran out of steam, and struck early in the second half to take sole possession of fourth place in the Super League standings.
Both Freddy Adu and Eddie Johnson got the starting nod from Hector Raul Cuper, but the former was replaced at the half while the latter went the distance.
Within only a half a minute, Johnson was already involved in the attack, cutting into the box on the right side and finding Sergio Koke for a point-blank header at Athens keeper Sebastián Saja. The Argentine did well to manage a block, which left Mehdi Nafti in prime position to claim the opener five yards in front of the net. Unfortunately for the Tunisian, his follow-up soared over the crossbar.
A similar situation occurred in the 15th when Koke nearly notched a double strike from ten yards out in front of the net. Again Saja did well to block the first strike, and the Spaniard's second attempt curled over the bar.
AEK's Brazilian midfielder Leonardo created the first opportunity for AEK with a 30 yard blast in the 22nd minute that beamed straight at Michalis Sifakis.
Adu made an importance clearance at the half-hour mark after Algerian Rafik Djebbour sliced into the area and delivered a silver-platter ball across the net that deflected into open space ten yards out for t clearance by the 20 year-old.
In the 35th minute the ever-potent Leonardo had another good opportunity in front of the net after teammate Nacho Scocco was felled outside the box. After referee Michael Tsiniaris whistled play on, the ball came to Leonardo just yards in front of Sifakis's net, but the Brazilian's touch was not good enough to get it past the Greek netminder.
Aris coach Hector Raul Cuper opted to give Camel Meriem his second appearance in black and gold, bringing off Freddy Adu.
The hosts stormed out of the locker room and broke the deadlock within a minute following a Leonardo corner from the left side into the box. Captain Pantelis Kafes met the delivery and nodded it over just past the diving Sifakis, and off the right post for the eventual game-winner.
Five minutes later Toni Calvo tried in vain to get the Thessalonians back in the game with a 30-yard left-footer that wasn't far off-target.
On the counter-attack a Leonardo attempt was deflected over to Nikolaos Karabelas at the top of the area for a dangerous strike that Sifakis could only fist out of bounds.
The other missed opportunity for Aris came in the 61st after Toni Calvo sped down the right and found Neto ahead of the backline. The Brazilian squeezed in a shot at the touchline that nutmegged Saja, but precariously skirted across the mouth of the open net and out of bounds.
Nacho Scocco nearly doubled the Athenian advantage with nice footwork down the right side to get ahead of Aris defender Cristian Nasuti. Unfortunately for the Argentine, Sifakis was there to fist the shot to safety and prevent further damage from the Athenian offense.
Aris posed little danger in the final quarter of an hour and the hosts were quite content to sit on their 1-0 lead until the final whistle of referee Michael Tsiniaris.
With the loss Aris sit stranded in fifth with Nea Kavala only two points behind. Cuper's men now turn their attention to Sunday's must-win at home against Larissa.