A pretty big result for us today against Panionios, and a decent performance as well. I was a bit worried going into this match since I knew Panionios were coming off of a very big win and have one of the league’s most in form players with Bakasetas. I was also afraid that our poor form from the past few matches would carry through but it seemed the team was determined to put an end to that. In fact, I would have to say that the way we played today was some of the best football I’ve seen us play since we had that winning streak back in January.
There was nothing drastic with our starting lineup today, though the second start in a row for Buonanotte was a positive straight from the get go. Unfortunately, I don’t really think he played as well as AEK365 seems to think he did. I don’t think it really has to do with his ability as a player, but more to do with how he fits in to the formations and style of football we play. He was positioned towards the wing but more often than not ended up playing more centrally, a position on the pitch where he just doesn’t have the presence required to hold up the ball. I personally would like to see him lineup in a formation where we have two forwards with Buonanotte as one, and a larger player like Pekhart or Aravidis playing beside him so that we could still have a larger target man when needed. He definitely has the skill to make huge impacts the way Scocco was able to, but we need to see him playing in a position where his attacking instinct can come into play more easily. Especially when we already have strong players who can hold onto the ball well such as Simoes, Vargas, and Barbosa, I would love to see him play in a position where every first touch he takes is in a position where he can go straight for goal and take a shot or dribble the ball into a dangerous position.
For the most part we played very well going forward. We managed to create some decent chances throughout the first half with Johansson even hitting the post and Aravidis barely missing what would have been a simple tap in. A lot of our effectiveness in attack arose from the fact that we managed to play the ball low and direct, avoiding pointless long balls in the air whenever we could. We managed to keep the ball down and moved it around efficiently with Mantalos, Vargas, and Johansson all linking up very well. Didac also made some fantastic contributions going forward, always providing an option down the wing and often getting the ball dangerously close to Panionios’ net. With some more in form attacking players, we could have gone up by a couple goals before the close of the first half.
Defensively we were okay, but shaky at times. Arzo specifically made what could have been a very costly mistake, one which could have also potentially given a penalty against us. For the most part though, our defense wasn’t quite as active as I thought they would be since Panionios ended up playing far less aggressively than I expected them to. They still managed to get up to our box on a few occasions but they were happy to soak up the pressure for the most part and when they did manage to venture forward, they never ended up looking too dangerous.
With the game still at 0-0 with twenty minutes left, Cordero got sent off for his second yellow of the match. I feared the worse at that point but luckily for us, Poyet made two fantastic changes just before then, bringing on Barbosa for Aravidis, and Pekhart for Vargas. Just two minutes after Cordero’s expulsion from the match, Barbosa and Pekhart linked up brilliantly and put us ahead 1-0 after Pekhart did well to finish a pass from Barbosa despite the angle being less than favourable.
The difference in the tempo of the match after Barbosa was brought on was noticed immediately, and having a new face to target going forward seemed to provide a boost to the team as not long after our first goal Barbosa and Pekhart again linked up very well, this time with Barbosa sending a wonderful long ball forward for Pekhart to latch on to. The shot took a lucky deflection for us, but Pekhart did well to get the ball quickly under control before taking the shot.
Despite only playing for twenty minutes, Pekhart more than deserved the MVP award for doing exactly what was needed when we needed it most. I’ve been a bit harsh on him from after previous games, but he really hasn’t had a great chance to really settle in with the team. Performances like today though really show that if he is in fact given the chance to really find his place in the team, I think he can be a critical player for us. His size and finishing skill make him a perfect target man up front, someone who is tough to defend and can play both high and low balls just as effectively.
All in a all a good performance from the team, and definitely a good sign that we can expect some decent games from the team during the playoffs, as long as they play like today and not like last week (or the week before that). I’m curious if Pekhart’s performance today will land him a position in the starting lineup next match, but I personally wouldn’t mind seeing him as an impact sub off the bench again.
I haven’t found a highlight video yet, but the two goals from today are on YouTube for those who would like to see them. In case you were wondering why the stadium was so quiet today, we were unfortunately playing the first of two home games without fans for our punishment due to the events of our game against Atromitos.
A quick note about our basketball team too, after their 87-74 win over Arkadikos over the weekend (a bittersweet win for me since its always disappointing to see a team from my region of the Peloponnese get relegated, as was the case for Arkadikos after their loss) . The win means we finish the league in fourth, setting us up to play PAOK in the playoffs. To be honest, I think we have a good chance of getting past PAOK and into the next round assuming we play well defensively. We beat them early in the season, and had the chance to beat them quite comfortably in Thessaloniki if we hadn’t let that game slip out of our hands due to error after error. With a focused performance in all the games, we can definitely make it through.