As Razvan Lucescu had said beforehand, the only demand he had of his players for the game in Gibraltar was to get three points, at any cost. In the end, PAOK achieved their goal, prevailing 2-0 against Lincoln in their Matchday 1 group stage clash in the UEFA Europa Conference League.
The game itself was complicated and definitely a difficult one. The synthetic pitch and conditions in Gibraltar did not resemble a typical European game, and our rookie opposition was full of excessive enthusiasm. PAOK, however, managed to steer clear of any traps they found in front of them.
The collective mind of the team remained focused, the bodies endured, and a serious and solid Double-headed Eagle side got the three points, which is extremely important in the group standings and the battle for the top spot.
Razvan Lucescu made several changes in comparison to the match against PAS Giannina last Sunday. Paschalakis started between the posts, Sidcley played on the left wing instead of Vieirinha , Mihaj came in the central defence instead of Varelas, while Kurtic and Esiti were tasked with the central midfield roles. In the attack Akpom and Mitrita were give the job of unlocking the home side’s defence.
From the kick-off, PAOK initially took some time to adapt to the synthetic pitch and find their footing. Biseswar, Mitrita and Akpom each got a sight of goal early on, but none of them managed to convert. The English forward was denied by a great save from the opposing goalkeeper in a one-on-one situation the 16th minute.
The hosts did not try to park the bus and wanted to play their football, but Paschalakis had the answers to their threatening moments in the final quarter of the first half, before Akpom finally managed to do in the second minute of added time what he had failed to do earlier – score.
Lucas Taylor skipped past whoever he found in his way on a mazy run down the right and sent over a low cross which the arriving AK47 tapped home for his first goal since his return to the club to make it 1-0 to PAOK at half-time
In the second half, PAOK aimed to try and find a quick goal to lock up the victory. Akpom scored again but his goal was wrongly chalked off as offside, but in the end Mitrita was the man who provided the solution.
After a corner by Murg , Michailidis flicked on a header, the ball cannoned off the crossbar, and Mitrita was there from close range to steer the ball home from teh rebound to make it 2-0.
The hosts did have some good moments, but each time when needed Paschalakis was there to block them out, while in the very last phase of the match Lincoln hit the crossbar with a powerful shot from distance.
The final whistle saw PAOK celebrate an important three-pointer start to their European group stage campaign – a result which saw the Double-headed Eagle climb to the top of the standings, along with FC Copenhagen who defeated Slovan Bratislava 3-1 in the other game.
Lincoln (Mike McElway): Soler, Wiseman, R. Chipolina, Bernardo Lopez, Tuscano, Torilla (67′ J. Chipolina), Rosa, Anon (62′ Ronan), Araiza (81′ Peacock), Carralero (80′ Sergeant), Kike Gomez (62′ Ocran).
PAOK (Razvan Lutsescu): Paschalakis, Taylor, Crespo (44′ Michailidis), Mihaj, Sidcley, Esiti, Kurtic, Murg (83′ Vieirinha), Mitrita (73′ Konstantelias), Biseswar (73′ Swiderski), Akpom (82′ Koutsias).
EUROPA CONFERENCE LEAGUE
Tottenham was second-best for much of the game against Rennes after taking an early lead when Lucas Moura's deflected cross was knocked into the net by Rennes' Loic Bade. Rennes hit back with a goal from Flavien Tait and took the lead when Gaetan Laborde scored in the 72nd minute, but Tottenham leveled soon after through Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg.
The draw was overshadowed by injuries for Tottenham as Moura and Steven Bergwijn both went off hurt. The team is already dealing with a calf problem for South Korean forward Son Heung-min ahead of playing Chelsea on Sunday. Tottenham has also been without three players who are in quarantine after traveling to South America for national-team games.
"It's been terrible. I must be honest. Let's not hide behind anything," Tottenham coach Nuno Espirito Santo said of the personnel situation. "(Bergwijn and Moura) are being taken care of by the medical department. But it's been tough."
Roma went a goal down to Bulgarian club CSKA when Irish midfielder Graham Carey scored in the 10th minute but hit back strongly with two goals from Lorenzo Pellegrini and one from Stephan El Sharaawy on the way to a 5-1 win. After CSKA forward Yanic Wildschut was sent off for a second yellow card in the 80th, Roma scored twice more.
Germany's Union Berlin lost 3-1 to Slavia Prague on its European debut after playing the whole second half with 10 men. Gibraltar had its first team in a European group stage as Lincoln Red Imps lost 2-0 at home to Greece's PAOK.
Roma plays Bulgarian club CSKA Sofia later Thursday. Tottenham and Roma are among the favorites to win the new Europa Conference League, which was set up to give clubs from smaller countries more chances to compete.