A heavy pitch - despite the fact that clubs' could be fined £30,000 for sub standard pitches - and an empty stadium greeted Zenit St Petersburg and FC Saturn Moscow Oblast this afternoon, but hosts Zenit still managed the win...
Because of the displaying of a tasteless and offensive banner about football legend Lev Yashin at the last home game of season in 2008, Zenit’s first home game was ordered to be played behind closed doors by the Russian FA. Zenit fans also set fire to several thousand seats at the Luzhniki stadium last week, so maybe this was just as well.
The empty stadium carried a rather comic setting at the beginning of the game as Russian music was played in the background, the harmony ringing around the empty stadium, with no fans to sing along.
Zenit were hoping to win their first home fixture of the season, with interest in European competition at an end after being knocked out of the UEFA Cup by Udinese. Saturn Moscow, or Aliens as they are sometimes known, were seeking to absolve last week’s 3-0 loss to a Zico coached CSKA, with a much better performance this time around.
The first clear chance of the game fell to Zenit in the second minute. A free-kick was whipped in from the left by Viktor Faitzulin and Russian international, and possible Chelsea target Striker Pavel Pogrebniak, met the ball, but headed over the bar.
It didn’t take long for the goal to come, as only six minutes later Zenit scored from a cross, this time on the other side of the pitch. It was a rare goal by defender Ivica Krizanac, who hit an overhead kick after the goal keeper saved well from Pavel Pogrebniak.
In the 13th minute, the exciting Portuguese international striker Danny, who scored ten goals last season for Zenit, picked up a good Pavel Pogrebniak ball, made a great run down the left side and shot across the goal, just past the right hand post.
It was all Zenit for the first twenty minutes, but Saturn started to hold the ball a bit more as the game wore on.
Central midfielder, Anatoliy Tymoschuk, was pulling the strings in midfield and Saturn just giving him too much space.
With ten minutes to go until half-time, Saturn scored a goal against the run of play. Dick Advoccat's booming voice could be heard arguing with the fourth official about an earlier decision that when against his side, as Saturn equalised through Striker Marko Topic.
Replays suggested that Yeremenko, who crossed the ball, was offside in the build up.
Zenit then had a great chance to take the lead again, but midfielder Igor Denisov only met Saturn defender Ruslan Nakhushev, who flew into orbit to block the ball.
Just like the beginning of the first-half, Zenit controlled possession as Saturn sat back, happy to play on the break.
Stalemate was inevitable. And substitutes inevitable. Saturn brought on Nigerian Solomon Okoronkyo and Zenit introduced a striker, Fatih Tekke.
Saturn's former Benfica midfielder, Andrei Karyaka, then brought out a good save by the keeper.
Then, in the 67th minute, Zenit's Turkish striker Fatih Tekke received a great cross on the right and scored with a diving header.
Aware of the need to hold onto the lead, Dick Advocaat took off winger Danny for Igor Semshov, Zenit’s fourth game in eleven days, beginning to take its toll.
With fifteen minutes to go, Zenit got a penalty. Marko Topic the scorer for Saturn, turned villain as he foolishly brought down the right-back Aleksandr Aniukov, when the ball appeared to be going out harmlessly out for a goal kick. Bayern Munich target Anatoliy Tymoschuk put the ball past the left hand post.
Zenit, however, held on for the win.