Russian reigning champions Zenit St. Petersburg battled from two goals down to salvage a 2-2 draw at Kuban in Krasnodar today.
The result left Zenit on top of the Premier League table with 81 points from 40 matches, 12 points ahead of Dinamo Moscow, who beat city rivals CSKA 1-0 to jump into second spot. Spartak, who take on Anzhi Makhachkala on Sunday, sit third on 68 points.
Kuban and Zenit played pedestrian-style football with few scoring chances before the interval. Kuban created the only serious opportunity but an eight-metre header by their Côte d'Ivoire striker Lacina Traore from Romanian teammate forward Gheorghe Bucur's left-handed cross could only hit the woodwork.
After the break the hosts upped the tempo and Kuban skipper Traore put them into the lead sending the ball into the net over Zenit 'keeper Vyacheslav Malafeyev after a piece of good individual work just before the one-hour mark. Zenit replied positively also moving up a gear but it was Traore who scored the hosts' second in the 72nd minute with a seven-metre header from a well-struck freekick by Armenian international striker Marcos Pizelli.
However Zenit refused to surrender and pulled level through Andrei Arshavin and Roman Shirokov, who scored one apiece within two minutes. "It was a nice match," Zenit coach Luciano Spalletti said. "It's always tough to play against Kuban as the team is physically strong and very well prepared.
"We needed to allow the hosts to score twice to find our playing again and to begin scoring the goals. Luckily we saved the day."
Dinamo Moscow, who were sharing third place with CSKA, improved their position with a 1-0 win over the Red Army side. Dinamo's Bosnian midfielder Zvjezdan Misimovic was the hero of the match scoring his side's winning goal in the 18th minute from Hungarian teammate Balazs Dzsudzsak's feeding pass after a CSKA mix-up in defence.
"It was a difficult match' Dinamo manager Sergei Silkin said. "CSKA gained the initiative after the break and created some serious chances for an equaliser but we defended well and kept our lead. I believe the result was fair."