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By ESPN Staff

Thrashing at Iraklis dents AEK's title hopes

ATHENS, Jan 29 (Reuters) - AEK Athens missed a chance to pull level with Olympiakos Piraeus at the top of the Greek first division after suffering a 4-0 defeat away to Iraklis in Thessaloniki on Sunday.

The loss leaves AEK in second place on 39 points, three behind Olympiakos, who play 14th-placed Panionios on Monday.

AEK's thrashing allowed crosstown rivals Panathinaikos to close the gap on them after the Greens beat Ionikos 1-0 at home and moved to 33 points in third place.

Iraklis are now fourth having overtaken PAOK, who lost 2-1 at Atromitos, and Xanthi in sixth, who only managed a 0-0 draw at home against lowly OFI Crete.

AEK started the game brightly with Brazilian midfielder Emerson making his debut but a bizarre goal set Iraklis on their way to a seventh home win.

A seemingly harmless shot from Greece international winger Panagiotis Lagos in the 15th minute hit a divot and bounced over the outstretched arms of AEK goalkeeper Stefano Sorrentino.

The score remained 1-0 until the 63rd minute when Argentine striker Esteban Herrera scored with a powerful header.

Lagos got his second in the 74th minute when he followed up a shot from Herrera. Cameroon midfielder Joel Epalle slid in 10 minutes later to round off the rout.

Panathinaikos kept up the pressure for second place thanks to a headed goal from Fanis Gekas in the ninth minute at the Olympic Stadium in Athens. The home side dominated the game but were unable to add to their tally.

The match between strugglers Levadiakos and Apollon Kalamarias was postponed because of a frozen pitch and will be played on Wednesday.