MOSCOW, March 17 (Reuters) - An early goal by Alan Dzagoyev helped CSKA Moscow to a 1-0 home win over FK Krasnodar on Sunday as the army side took a big step towards their first Russian league title since 2006.
Russia forward Dzagoyev struck in the 17th minute after evading two defenders to put CSKA on their way to securing their third consecutive league victory that stretched their lead at the top of the table to seven points over Anzhi Makhachkala with nine games left.
“We played extremely well in the first half and even though we let off a bit after the interval, they didn’t have any clear chances to score,” CSKA coach Leonid Slutsky told reporters.
Big-spending Anzhi, playing their first home game at the newly-built 30,000-seat arena in the nearby town of Kaspiisk, were held to a 1-1 draw by 10-man Krylya Sovietov Samara, who had a defender sent off in the 37th minute.
Sergei Kornilenko put Samara, coached by former Anzhi boss Gadzhi Gadzhiyev, ahead midway through the second half but Ivory Coast striker Lacina Traore rescued a point for the home side.
Guus Hiddink’s team, knocked out of the Europa League by Newcastle on Thursday, spurned a host of chances before Traore tapped in a rebound with less than 10 minutes remaining after Samuel Eto‘o’s header was saved by Samara keeper Sergei Veremko.
“You don’t need to ask me how I feel,” Hiddink told reporters. “Of course, I‘m extremely disappointed just like all our fans who came here to support us. Probably we were a bit tired from playing twice in three days, but there’s no excuse.”
Champions Zenit St Petersburg stayed in the hunt for the title with a hard-earned 1-0 home win over Mordovia Saransk to ease the pressure on coach Luciano Spalletti despite playing with debutant goalkeeper Yegor Baburin for most of the match.
Italian Spalletti, who has led Zenit to back-to-back league crowns in the last two years, had faced calls to resign after Zenit lost three of their previous four games and were also dumped out of the Europa League by modest Swiss side Basel.
Zenit suffered more woes after just 10 minutes when their second-choice keeper Yuri Zhevnov had to leave the game with a pulled hamstring.
With number one Vyacheslav Malafeyev sidelined by a back injury, Zenit were forced to use 19-year-old Baburin, who had only played for the reserve team.
Second-bottom Mordovia, who shocked Anzhi 2-0 last weekend, frustrated the home side for long periods before Brazilian Hulk, who joined Zenit for a club record $78 million last September, broke the deadlock 10 minutes into the second half.
The visitors, who had a defender sent off for a second booking on the hour, threatened late in the game but Zenit held on to remain in third place, a point behind Anzhi.
“The team was very disappointed with the set-back against Basel but we showed a great character fighting for victory tonight,” Spalletti told Russian television NTV Plus. (Editing by Ed Osmond)