APOEL sealed their fourth straight league title on Thursday with a 2-0 win over second-placed AEK Larnaca at a packed GSP Stadium.
Despite the Nicosia giants being unbeaten in the league since January 10 and winning all but two of their last 16 games, recent weeks within the club had been anything but rosy.
Just as they did last year, the club decided to part ways with their manager while sitting top of the table with a few games remaining.
Temur Ketsbaia was replaced by Giorgos Kosti and Marinos Satsias on an interim basis, with the duo overcoming their first challenge by defeating local rivals Omonia 2-0 last weekend to put them within three points of winning the title.
Planning to spoil the party were AEK, who have proven to be a worthy competitor this season. And it was Thomas Christiansen’s side that should have taken the lead early on.
After APOEL keeper Urko Pardo had spilled the ball in the area, AEK top scorer Andre Alves inexplicably missed the target with the goal at his mercy.
On a warm Nicosia afternoon, APOEL seemed to be melting under the pressure as AEK looked in control.
However, as champions often do, APOEL took the first chance that came their way. Vander intercepted a stray pass from Constantinos Mintikkis in midfield before playing in Pieros Sotiriou, who then calmly rounded the keeper and slotted the ball home for the opener.
APOEL looked stronger after the break, and Giannis Gianniotas threatened with a long-distance strike.
The Greek forward would make his mark on the game moments later, after being felled inside the box by Joan Tomas. The 22-year-old had the courage to take the subsequent penalty, which he duly converted to put APOEL within touching distance of the title.
What could have been a nervy final half hour was made far more comfortable when AEK midfielder Jorge Larena was sent off for two yellow cards.
The second goal seemed to knock the stuffing out of the visitors, who could feel the title slipping away from their grasp. Lying four points behind APOEL before kick-off, only a win would have realistically been enough for AEK to remain in the title hunt with two games remaining.
Sotiriou had a good chance on 70 minutes to add gloss to the scoreline but his effort went wayward. Charalambides then went close moments later but it did not matter at all in the end.
With the final whistle came delirious celebrations from the home players, staff and fans as APOEL clinched their 25th Cypriot first division title.
Though two more matches still remain in the championship, the top two spots are confirmed, as AEK sit 11 points ahead of third-placed Omonia, with passage to the Europa League qualifying stages secured.
For APOEL, the focus now turns to strengthening the squad in key areas, and hiring a new full-time manager, in order to put right what went terribly wrong in last summer’s Champions League qualifying campaign.