LARNACA - Second place APOEL will face their biggest test of the second half of the season on Sunday as they aim to beat third place AEK Larnaca.
Despite an indifferent start to the Cypriot season, APOEL will be aiming to keep up their winning run with a victory away to an AEK side currently on an impressive run of form themselves.
Ivan Jovanovic’s side are three points behind league leaders Anorthosis Famagusta, who are away to Ethnikos Achnas tomorrow, closing in on the end-of-season playoffs in April and will now need to beat in-form AEK – the same side who stunned them 2-1 in Nicosia earlier in the campaign.
That defeat had coincided with one of APOEL’s worst patches of the season in which defensive frailties were being exposed, the new players struggled to gel and reinforcements were desperately needed up front.
The defeat was met with disdain from the home supporters who vented their frustration at Jovanovic and his players after the final whistle.
January arrivals Mikkel Beckmann and Dudu Biton replaced the outgoing Helder Sousa and Esteban Solari and the change has already paid off dividends with the Nicosia club have now trimmed the gap on Anorthosis and with Biton having scored three goals in as many games, the last being the winner against Ethnikos in midweek.
“Now the real league starts with difficult games but we re ready for it”, tweeted Biton after the game. “Important win especially since we were without our fans [the game was played behind closed doors]. Its not easy to play like this and I’m happy to score once again.”
Ahead of the trip to the GSZ Stadium, Jovanovic is set to miss out on the services of Constantinos Charalambides with the Cypriot international struggling to shrug off a recent injury but the Serbian-Greek boss will welcome back Stathis Aloneftis and Mario Sergio who both got through training yesterday without any problem.
AEK, who are six points adrift of APOEL, scored in injury time to hold title holders AEL Limassol to a 2-2 draw on the same day APOEL defeated Ethnikos and will also be in confident mood when they face the Nicosia club this time on their own turf.
The Larnaca club felt hard done by their draw in Limassol after replays showed that AEK’s goalkeeper was fouled off the ball in the build up to AEL’s second goal.
A win for AEK would bring them to within three points of APOEL and the chance to put themselves in contention for the league title.
Ran Ben Shimon will be missing Christos Marangos through suspension while Seran Polo will also miss out following his straight red card in the draw with AEL.
In other games this weekend, Omonia face a tough home tie against sixth place Apollon Limassol while title holders and fifth place AEP will fancy their chances at home to last place AEP.
Nea Salamina will be in action against Doxa Katokopia while on Sunday Olympiakos host Alki and Ayia Napa will be looking to bounce back from their 5-1 hammering at the hands of Anorthosis by beating neighbours Enosis Neon Paralimniou.