Three-time former champions Zenit St. Petersburg extended their lead in the Russian Premiership with a confident 2-0 win over visitors Volga Nizhny Novgorod.
Zenit recorded their sixth win in as many matches under new manager Andre Villas-Boas as they climbed to 59 points from 27 matches at the top. They are one point ahead of second-placed Lokomotiv Moscow, who beat FC Krasnodar 3-1, while defending champions CSKA Moscow, who take on Rubin Kazan on Sunday, are third on 52 points.
Zenit were without their Brazilian forward Hulk and Italian wingback Domenico Criscito, who were both serving a one-match ban after collecting four yellow cards. But the hosts, spurred on by a capacity 21,000 crowd dominated the play from the start and grabbed the lead in the 25th minute, when Belgian midfielder Axel Witsel fired home with a low shot from the edge of the six-yard box.
Volga poured forward in attack looking for an equaliser and their Armenian midfielder Artur Sarkisov had the ball in the net after 38 minutes, only for the goal to be ruled out for offside. They were then awarded a penalty in the 41st minute after Volga Brazilian midfielder Leandro da Silva was called for handball but Portugal's Miguel Danny sent the ball wide from the spot.
Midfielder Viktor Faizulin added his goal in the 77th minute scoring with a powerful 20-metre shot to secure Zenit's well-deserved win.
"It's a very important win for us," Villas-Boas said. "Volga defended well today but we managed to overcome their defence to score twice. Now we need to win two more matches to secure the Russian title.
"On our return home we will start preparations for next week's match with Lokomotiv, which may decide the title," he added.
Lokomotiv keep pace
Meanwhile, Lokomotiv got off to a lively start at Krasnodar and scored in the sixth minute through midfielder Alexei Miranchuk, who dribbled into the host's area to drive the ball past helpless goalkeeper Alexander Filtsov.
But the guests failed to keep their lead as Krasnodar's Brazilian midfielder Joaozinho pulled the match level in the 45th minute with a close range finish. Lokomotiv missed a chance to regain the lead just before the break as winger Alexander Samedov failed to convert a spotkick after the hosts were penalised for handball in box.
But Samedov restored himself as he scored twice in injury time to ensure his club's hard-fought win and to keep Lokomotiv in the title race.
"We showed strong character tonight to earn a very hard win," Samedov said. "We have three matches ahead and every one of them is like a final for us. And we are determined to win them all."