Display of character in narrow win
Despite being reduced to ten men since the 2nd minute of the encounter, PAOK never relinquished the reins of the game, were in total control of the tie against Spartak Trnava and won 1-0 thanks to Lucas Pérez goal eight minutes from time.
The heat was unbearable on Thursday evening at Toumba, but PAOK were not hot at all in the beginning of their first leg against Spartak Trnava, a tie corresponding to the UEFA Europa League 3rd qualifying round. After just two minutes of play, Miguel Vítor saw the ball escape his control and Mikovič recovered it and set out to beat Olsen. Trying to pressure him, the Portuguese centre back fouled him at the edge of the box and was shown the red card by Norwegian referee Svein-Erik Edvartsen.
Despite being in numerical inferiority from almost the start of the game, PAOK never lost their grip on the game. Croatian tactician Igor Tudor substituted Efthymis Koulouris in order to send Giannis Skondras on the pitch and maintain defensive balance.
PAOK players covered every inch of the ground, were in command of proceedings and pressured their rivals high up the pitch creating dangerous situations in the Slovakian box.
In the 20th minute, Ricardo Costa’s header grazed the crossbar, while three minutes later Róbert Mak was erroneously adjudged to be in an offside position as he was breaking free with only Kamenár to beat. In the 27th minute, the same assistant referee made yet another bad offside call, preventing Lucas from scoring the opener.
FC Spartak Trnava were unable to claim control of the encounter, despite being at a numerical advantage, and that became obvious from their excessive force of their pressing on the players of the “Double-Headed Eagle” and their high number of fouls committed (32 as opposed to PAOK’s 16).
PAOK came close to breaking the deadlock during stoppage time of the first half, when Lucas couldn’t go past the goalkeeper of the visitors, but somehow got the rebound among three opponents. He fired a powerful shot but the ball deflected off Kamenár.
PAOK players kept the same pace after the interval. Mak lost a huge opportunity to score in the 61st minute, when he mistimed his shot from a favourable position. Three minutes later, Κitsiou, Lucas and Κace carved out a perfect combination, but the latter’s shot went above the crossbar.
For the last 20 minutes, Tudor decided to bring fresh feet to his side’s attacking midfield line, by introducing Κyriakos Savvidis and Giannis Mystakidis. Both players would prove him right.
Savvidis pressured, stole the ball in the midfield and passed it to Mystakidis. The young player had already seen the vertical move of Lucas and teed him up with the excellent pass. The Spaniard’s clinical finish was what Toumba needed to start partying.
«This win, despite being narrow, is very very important for our team’s mentality», Igor Tudor said right after the final whistle of the encounter. He was satisfied with his players’ display on the pitch. PAOK fans were also ecstatic. After having supported the team from minute one with their incessant chants, they applauded the players for their overall performance, their strength of character in all 100 minutes…
PAΟΚ: Olsen, Vítor, Ricardo Costa, Τzavellas, Μak (78’ Μystakidis), Τziolis (73’ Κ.Savvidis), Pelkas, Κace, Κitsiou, Κoulouris (2’ Skondras), Lucas.
FC Spartak Trnava: Kamenár, Janečka, Greššák, Nikolić, Tóth, Casado, Sabo, Mikinič, Halilović (86’ Báez), Mikovič (21’ Steinhubel) Vojtuš (74’ Harba).