MOSCOW, December 1 (R-Sport) – A goal from Axel Witsel saved Zenit St. Petersburg from defeat to relegation candidate Terek Grozny on Sunday, but Russian football’s Premier League leader still dropped points in a 1-1 draw.
Zenit is now without a win in seven games in all competitions, putting pressure on coach Luciano Spalletti. The team’s draw in Chechnya opens up a one-point gap over second-placed Lokomotiv Moscow, who has a game in hand away to FC Kuban on Sunday, while Terek stays 15th and in the relegation zone. The Chechen side has won just once in the league this season, against CSKA Moscow in September.
Witsel’s 78th-minute leveler came against the run of play, the Belgian midfielder picking up the ball 20 yards out and hitting a left-footed shot that took a deflection on its way into the top-left corner of the host’s goal.
Before that, Terek had looked set for victory thanks to Igor Lebedenko’s 51st-minute opener. Zenit failed to clear a corner and the veteran Russian punished the team with a strike from the edge of the box.
Late on, both sides came close to scoring winners, but Terek had the better chances. Terek’s Ailton put the ball in the back of the net after rounding Zenit goalkeeper Yuri Lodygin, but it was ruled out for a dubious offside.
Lodygin was frequently irate at the Zenit defense, not least on 72 minutes when it failed to stop a low cross reaching Terek striker Jeremy Bokila, whose side-footed finish was stopped by quick reactions from the keeper. Minutes later, Bokila beat Lodygin but had the ball taken off him as he shaped to shoot into the unguarded net.
Zenit was second-best for most of the match before Witsel's fortuitous equalizer spurred it into life, and the St. Petersburg side almost snatched all three points with a fierce Hulk free-kick that was parried by Terek keeper Yaroslav Godzyur and flew across the face of goal, only for defender Fyodor Kudryashov to nod it over the bar as Zenit players closed in.
The start of the match was delayed by more than 20 minutes because Zenit was late arriving at the stadium in Grozny, the capital of Chechnya, having only arrived in the city two hours prior to the scheduled kick-off time.
On Saturday, Dynamo Moscow downed struggling Ural Yekaterinburg 3-0.
Later Sunday, FC Krasnodar visits Krylya Sovetov Samara before Spartak Moscow has the chance to go within a point of Zenit if it beats FC Volga at home.
In four games Monday, reigning champion CSKA Moscow visits FC Rostov, Lokomotiv takes on Kuban, Rubin Kazan hosts Amkar Perm and there is a relegation dogfight between Anzhi Makhachkala and FC Tomsk.