Zenit St. Petersburg won in controversial circumstances Sunday as a free-kick slip-up led to Alexander Kerzhakov’s late winner in a 3-2 victory away to minnows Alania Vladikavkaz.
The win boosts Zenit’s title aspirations, as the reigning champions leap two places to second in the Russian Premier League table, two points adrift of leaders Anzhi Makhachkala, who have a game in hand.
The absence of striker Hulk, suspended after earning four yellow cards, did not stop Zenit, who are now on a four-game winning run in the league, while Alania are without a win since August and have three points from their last eight fixtures.
Alania were punished for their casual attitude to their 89th-minute free-kick in their own half when Zenit’s Konstantin Zyryanov pounced on an aimless kick of the ball to feed Kerzhakov, who rounded 17-year-old goalkeeper Vitaly Dudiev and scored.
The referee and officials were immediately surrounded by protesting Alania players, and the recriminations continued after the final whistle.
Zenit coach Luciano Spalletti appeared to suggest the winning goal should not have counted.
"We scored the last goal from a free-kick and I think it's worth looking over that moment again. There were a lot of protests," he said in televised comments, adding that he considered the free-kick that led to Alania's first goal suspect.
Kerzhakov was already the hero as Zenit had come back from being 2-1 down until 70 minutes, when the striker equalized with a thumping strike from a 20-yard direct free-kick.
Earlier, he played a role in Zenit opening the scoring on 13 minutes, when Vladimir Bystrov struck from a goalmouth scramble after Dudiev saved Kerzhakov’s shot from the spot but failed to hold it.
Alania’s charge was led by defender Vladimir Khozin, who headed the hosts level from a Shota Grigalasvili free-kick on 34 minutes.
Khozin put Alania ahead 10 minutes later with a low strike through the Zenit wall at a free-kick. In a bizarre twist, the ball went through the net, necessitating a stop for repairs.
Earlier, Spartak Moscow beat Mordovia Saransk 2-0 at home, while FC Krasnodar drew 1-1 away to last placed side FC Volga.
Sunday sees Rubin Kazan host Anzhi and surprise package Terek Grozny meet second-placed CSKA Moscow, before Dan Petrescu’s Dynamo Moscow take on Krylya Sovetov.
On Friday, Lokomotiv Moscow went down to surprise 2-1 home defeat to Amkar Perm and a late goal from Bulgaria captain Ivelin Popov gave FC Kuban a 1-0 victory at home to FC Rostov.