Pieros Sotiriou’s second-half strike handed Apoel a massive three points against Young Boys which leaves them on the brink of qualification to the knockout stages of the Europa League.
The Cypriot international, along with Efrem, missed a host of chances but persistence paid off and Apoel now sit top of Group B, five points clear of third place with two games remaining.
Apoel made their intentions clear right from the off, as they came bursting out of the traps. Efrem, who opened the scoring in Switzerland two weeks ago, stole the ball high up the pitch before striking from the edge of the box, forcing Young Boys keeper Mvogo into a full-stretch tip wide.
From the resulting corner, the cross from Efstathios Aloneftis was met by Sotiriou but the striker headed well over the crossbar.
Young Boys had a similar chance at the other end just minutes later. After the hat-trick he scored against Apoel in the 3-1 win a fortnight ago, Guillaume Hoarau was the last player they should have been allowing a free header, but thankfully for the Cypriot side, the big man could only guide his effort into the hands of Waterman.
Aloneftis has slowly earned his spot in the Apoel lineup after some recent impressive showings and the winger fully justified his start. Sotiriou smartly attempted to flick in Aloneftis’ near-post cross, only for the effort to hit the outside of the post.
On 35 minutes, Apoel simply should have taken the lead. A backward header intended for the goalkeeper was short and, even though Efrem was being flagged by the linesman, the referee allowed play to continue. The forward however failed to show composure and blasted the ball straight at the chest of the onrushing keeper.
The Aloneftis-Sotiriou connection seemed Apoel’s more likely route to goal. Adding to the two chances in the first half, another three followed in the opening ten minutes of the second.
The first was a low cross from deep, and with the keeper stranded, the striker managed to get his toe to the ball first but could not divert goalwards. The second was from a free-kick which Sotiriou rose well to meet but could not get over it enough to head under rather than over the over the bar and it was a comparable scenario for the third.
Just after the hour mark came the game’s turning point. Within just over a minute of Mbabu coming on for Young Boys, a late lunge on Carlao saw him pick up a straight red card.
A minute later, Sotiriou controlled a lofted Lago cross before shifting beyond his man and placing neatly beyond the keeper into the far post for 1-0. The 23-year-old appeared to have brought the ball down with his hand but, on the balance of play, it was a deserved lead.
Efrem’s disastrous night in front of goal continued. Having missed another gilt-edged chance before the goal, he spurned his easiest chance with ten minutes left to set up a nail-biting finish. But it would not prove costly as Apoel held on for an invaluable victory.
In the group’s other game between Astana and Olympiacos, the two sides shared a 1-1 draw, meaning that the Cypriots can tie up qualification with a win in Kazakhstan on 24 November or if the Greeks prevent Young Boys from winning in Piraeus later that evening.
Results from Europa League’s other matches on Thursday:
Fenerbahce 2 – 1 Man United
Zorya Luhansk 1 – 1 Feyenoord
FC Astana 1 -1 Olympiacos
FK Qabala 1 -2 Saint-Etienne
Anderlecht 6 – 1 Mainz
Maccabi Tel Aviv 0 – 0 AZ Alkmaar
Zenit 2 -1 Dundalk
Astra Giurgiu 1 -1 Viktoria Plzen
Austria Vienna 2 – 4 Roma
Athletic Bilbao 5 – 3 KRC Genk
Sassuolo 2 -2 Rapid Vienna
Fiorentina 3 – 0 Slovan Liberec
Paok Salonika 0 – 1 FK Qarabag
Southampton 2 – 1 Inter Milan
Sparta Prague 2 – 0 Hapoel Be’er Sheva
FC Zürich 0 – 0 Steaua Buc
Villarreal 1 – 2 Osmanlispor
Ajax 3 – 2 Celta Vigo
Panathinaikos 0 – 3 Standard Liege
KAA Gent 3 – 5 Shakt Donsk
Sporting Braga 3 – 1 Konyaspor
Schalke 2 – 0 FK Krasnodar
Nice 0 – 2 FC RB Salzb