A couple of weeks ago, Spartak's chances of winning RPL silver seemed minimal. He parted ways with Khimki, while CSKA defeated Torpedo and increased the gap from a direct competitor to four points. However, in the next round, the red-and-whites turned out to be stronger than their principal rival in the derby and reduced the gap to one point. And in the 29th, penultimate round of the national championship, a great gift was presented to them by Krasnodar, which, having spent almost 40 minutes in the minority, kept a draw in the game with the army team. And now Guillermo Abascal's wards had a chance to reach the second line and independently decide the fate of the medals.
At first glance, the Muscovites were faced with a feasible task, because they had to accept Nizhny Novgorod, which was significantly inferior in the Pari class. However, the guests fighting for survival themselves needed a victory. And with the arrival of the former captain of Spartak Sergey Yuran on the coaching bridge, the confrontation with the ten-time champions of Russia became especially important for them, especially since he never lost to the red and white as a mentor. Finally, Nizhny Novgorod could well be called an inconvenient opponent for Muscovites. In the three previous face-to-face meetings, the favorite won only one strong-willed victory with the same number of misfires and draws.
As for the lineups, there was only one intrigue - who would replace the disqualified and also injured Alexander Sobolev: Shamar Nicholson, who was more similar to him in anthropometric data, or Balde Keita, who scored four goals in the spring. As a result, Abascal's choice fell on the Senegalese, who was supported from the flanks by Quincy Promes and Anton Zinkovsky.
The guests, as expected, from the first minutes retreated to their own half and began to defend in full force. They formed two lines, which were very difficult to pass. Three central defenders on the flanks were supported by Dmitry Stotsky and Dmitry Rybchinsky. A trio of midfielders is located just above. Mamadou Maiga was especially good at destruction, recording six tackles and two interceptions.
The red-and-whites had possession of the ball 66% of the time before the break, but could not crack the opponent's "fortress" and with great difficulty delivered the ball to the final third. Most often, he was behind Georgy Dzhikiya and Nikita Chernov, who tried to launch attacks. It was almost impossible to go forward through the center, so the hosts were looking for space on the flanks. On the right, Zinkovsky was more active, to whose aid Daniil Denisov regularly rose.
It was the technical midfielder who organized the team's most dangerous moment in the first half in the second minute. After his serve and Keita's save, Roman Zobnin missed the near corner from outside the penalty area. Muscovites did not bother Artur Nigmatullin anymore. They did not strike a single shot on target and were marked only by a couple of inaccurate shots by Ruslan Litvinov.
On the left, Promes was invisible, and if he received a pass, he immediately faced Stotsky's pressure and had to give a pass back to Tomas Tavares. It is no coincidence that the Dutchman was forced to periodically go to the opposite edge. Almost did not receive the ball in front of Keita. In such a game, Spartak clearly needed a more powerful striker capable of imposing a fight on the opponent's high defenders.
Nizhny Novgorod did not forget about counterattacks, even if they did not carry them out too often. Timur Suleymanov clung to the ball well in front and made discounts for Edgar Sevikyan. A Lokomotiv graduate with experience in the Primera Diving, he boldly dribbled and earned several fouls. The guests, unlike the opponent, even scored a couple of shots on target, even if they turned out to be not too dangerous.
In the second half, the advantage of the red and white became even more overwhelming, and the possession time reached 72%. After talking to Abascal in the locker room, the hosts increased the pressure and pressed the opponent into the penalty area. The guests seemed to falter under such pressure. They began to make a lot more mistakes and almost did not go to the other half. On top of all the troubles, the replacement was asked by central defender Nikita Kakkoev, who in the first half unsuccessfully collided with Nigmatullin and, probably, received a concussion. Instead, Lucas Masoero appeared.
However, the defense of Nizhny Novgorod continued to hold. The Muscovites still had huge problems with penetrating into someone else's penalty area and delivering the ball to the final third. Keita and Promes were also completely invisible.
But Abascal at the end of the current season has repeatedly saved matches thanks to timely substitutions. So this time he released the attacking players at his disposal. First, Victor Moses, who took his place in the top three midfielders, entered the field, and then Nicholson and Daniil Khlusevich. The Jamaican increased the pressure on the opponent's defense, and the Russian added speed and freshness on the left edge, where a tired Stotsky could hardly contain Promes. At the same time, Moses actually went forward, where he formed a duet with Shamar.
A protracted siege of the outsider's gates began. The red-and-whites moved the ball from flank to flank and loaded it into the penalty area, counting on fresh performers. Also, the Muscovites regularly gave corners, which they earned 13 against one from the opponent. And in terms of the number of shots (25), they even gave out one of the best meetings for themselves in the current RPL draw.
To the credit of Yuran's wards, they defended themselves selflessly and courageously. The players literally lay down under the ball and interrupted the canopies with the last of their strength. Captain Kirill Gotsuk was especially good, who won the horse fight over and over again and insured his partners. And Viktor Alexandrov even repeated the RPL record for blocked shots - seven.
In the end, the team was saved by Nigmatullin, who had practically not entered the game before. First, after a perfect diagonal to the goalkeeper from Zinkovsky, he reduced the distance in a timely manner and did not allow Nicholson to send the ball into the net. And already in added time, the goalkeeper made another miracle save. This time, he stretched his arm to the side, deflected the blow of Moses, who headed at point-blank range.
Thus, "Spartak" failed to beat the uncompromising opponent and only in the end was able to deliver a couple of shots on target. The red-and-whites missed a great opportunity to climb to second place, and now the fate of silver medals is again in the hands of CSKA. Nizhny Novgorod, on the other hand, scored the most important point in the struggle for survival, which can help them avoid joints, and again stopped the venerable opponent.