At the start of this season I wasn’t too sure we’d be able to compete too well when it came to the derbies. I figured with a mix of young players and players who had never experienced first division football in Greece, we’d struggle with the players and more experienced teams.
Our derby performances in the first half of the season seemed to comfirm what I was afraid of at first but I never expected things to turn around the way they have. Yetserday’s win against Panathinaikos has made it three derby wins in a row, something that both Poyet and the team should be immensely proud of. Of course it hasn’t been easy. There were some scares in the PAOK game, Olympiakos were certainly not easy to come up against, and Panathinaikos managed to give us quite the fright on more than one occasion yesterday. But the fact that we managed to score when we needed to in all three games and hold on for the wins shows the team really has developed some character and experience, qualities which we can really build on for next season.
As for our game yesterday, I unfortunately missed some of the first half and had a hard time finding a stream for the beginning of the second half but what I read and saw of our performance was certainly not all good news. To be honest, I thought we would have a pretty easy time with PAO. Afterall, we’ve had some good form recently and have played pretty well since the start of the new year (aside from the game against Iraklis but that was an exception as far as I’m concerned). Our confidence was high and we’ve just generally seemed a level above PAO in most regards. PAO on the other hand have had some terrible form, have looked poor in games that matter, and its safe to say their confidence was not the highest. All this, to me at least, pointed to what should have been a rather routine game for us.
Of course, football is never so straightforward, and especially not when it comes to derbies. Sometimes players have a bad day, sometimes a whole team can have a bad day, and that seems to be what happened to us yesterday. Was it over confidence? Was PAO just feeling the pressure and urgency more than us? Its hard to tell. It would have been one thing if PAO started strong and we fought back soon after, but it took almost the whole first period before we started to show some sort of urgency and motivation to get the ball forward. Our passing was sloppy, we lacked any sort of creativity, and our defense could hardly handle anything that PAO.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, our least reliable player on the pitch was Arzo. Despite having a couple good games lately, he seemed to have returned to his usual self, making a number of potentially costly errors, and marking rather poorly to the point where a number of our other defenders would have to cover for him regularly. Defensively, the only player who really stood out for me was Didac while both Kolovetsios and Bakakis seemed to struggle to get comfortable. Bakakis unfortunately picked up an injury late in the game though thankfully for us, we’ll be able to have Galo back for the next game if I’m not mistaken.
As far as midfield and attack is concerned, nobody really stood out for me yesterday. It seemed like the entire team was too afraid to really get themselves forward and find the players providing the support for their passes. Thankfully we managed to pick up the pace a bit later in the game and get some numbers forward, but we still never really looked all that dangerous. As has been the case for the past three derbies though, we finally managed to get our lucky break and make it count with none other than Vargas being the one to score. I know I criticize him on a regular basis for not contributing enough to the team when hes on the pitch but he really deserves credit. When we really need to count on him most, hes always managed to get the ball in the net when players like Aravidis and Djebbour have struggled.
Overall, it was hardly a performance to be proud of. But the team did well to hold on and come away with the win and, more importantly, put ourselves comfortably ahead of PAO by seven points. The season is still far from over but at this point I’d be very surprised if PAO manage to come back and over take us for second (having said that, it could very well happen).
Some great clips from the atmosphere inside OAKA yesterday (I really love the yellow and black smoke bombs at the start of the second half):
A video taken from the stands the moment Vargas scored:
And of course, highlights from the game:
And one last link, this time to an AEK365 page which has videos of ten fantastic goals we’ve scored from fouls against PAO: