AEK Athens players chased off pitch by angry fans
ATHENS, April 14 (Reuters) -- AEK Athens's turbulent season continued on Sunday when their players were chased off the pitch by their fans, causing the abandonment of the Super League match against fellow strugglers Panthrakikos.
Both sets of players were forced off when hundreds of angry AEK supporters ran on to the pitch after the hosts conceded a an 87th-minute goal in the crucial relegation showdown.
After a 90-minute delay, officials announced that the match was being abandoned.
"We are going through very difficult moments right now," coach Traianos Dellas told reporters.
"I would like to say many things but I do not want to make things worse. I know how the real, pure AEK fans feel today and I would like to apologise to them the others [who invaded the pitch] did not even let us try to save ourselves in the final game next week.
"All I have to say to the fans is to try and stay calm, keep your pride for your club. One way or another the team will rise high again."
AEK, who desperately needed victory to improve their chances of top-flight survival, fell behind when home defender Mavroudis Bougaidis turned the ball past his own goalkeeper from a Dimitris Papadopoulso cross.
That prompted a mass pitch invasion from fans and the players ran for the sanctuary of the dressing rooms as play was stopped by the referee.
Police and security officials moved in to clear the pitch but after a delay of 90 minutes, referee Stavros Tritsonis announced that the match was abandoned.
A Super League spokesmen said that no result would be recorded on Sunday, with AEK expected to face a disciplinary committee next week and a decision likely to be made on Thursday.
AEK are almost certain to be punished heavily by the authorities.
Panathinaikos were docked five points, handed an automatic 3-0 loss and ordered to play four games behind closed doors as punishment for a similar incidents last season when fans invaded the pitch in the derby against Olympiakos, causing the match to be abandoned.
Play had already been stopped once following a smaller scale pitch invasion as AEK fans became impatient with their team who were just one point above the relegation zone before kickoff.
Wins for fellow strugglers Aris Salonica, who defeated Asteras Tripolis 5-1, and Veria, 5-0 winners over Platanias, meant that AEK face a desperate battle to avoid relegation for the first time in their 89-year history.
AEK have been operating on a shoe-string budget following a period of financial turmoil in which virtually an entire first-team squad was sold off in order to secure a licence and preserve their top-flight status.
Club officials have been seeking new investors but, after the recent collapse of a potential deal with London-based investment bank Seymour Pierce, their efforts have been unsuccessful.
Groups of supporters have staged regular protests at the training facilities due to the state of the team's finances and the controversial Nazi-salute goal celebration of midfielder Giorgos Katidis last month was another blow to AEK's reputation.
Katidis was banned for five-matches, fined 1,000 euros and forbidden from entering any sports stadiums. He also received a life ban from all national teams by the Greek Football Federation (EPO) for making the gesture after scoring the winning goal in a 2-1 Super League victory over Veria.