BELGRADE, Nov 17 (Reuters) - Former European Cup winners Red Star Belgrade twice came from behind to beat Serbian champions and league leaders Partizan 3-2 in a pulsating city derby to cut their advantage at the top to five points.
Partizan, who are chasing a record sixth successive league title, have 33 points from 13 games while Red Star - who won Europe’s premier club competition in 1991 - have 28 after a resilient performance which rekindled memories of former glories.
Having played second fiddle to Partizan in the last five years, hosts Red Star outshone their bitter arch-rivals in a cracking atmosphere, with well-behaved supporters at both ends providing a perfect setting.
Partizan saluted their outnumbered fans before the kick off, while their Red Star rivals in the 40,000 crowd unleashed volleys of fireworks that lit up the clear skies above Serbia’s capital in the cauldron of the Marakana stadium.
The spectacular sight paved the way for an explosive start as Partizan’s teenage striker Aleksandar Mitrovic fired the visitors into a ninth-minute lead, burying his shot under advancing keeper Boban Bajkovic after muscling his way past central defender Uros Spajic.
Roared on by their faithful, Red Star came surging forward and equalised five minutes later when Montenegro striker Filip Kasalica met Darko Lazovic’s perfect cross from the right and side-footed his volley past Nikola Petrovic.
But Red Star’s joy was short-lived as Serbia forward Lazar Markovic burst down the left and sent in a teasing low cross which central defender Milan Jovanovic turned into the roof of his own net.
The quick and crafty Markovic almost added a third for Partizan before the break, firing wide from a tight angle after weaving his way past two markers who were unable to cope with his pace.
Red Star were back on level terms shortly after halftime thanks to a superb goal by midfielder Luka Milivojevic, whose dinking shot with the tip of his boot from 20 metres gave Petrovic no chance as it sailed over the keeper and left him clutching air.
Lazovic then fired over the bar from close range and only some desperate defending kept Partizan afloat moments later after Petrovic was caught out of position and his team mates scrambled the ball away.
But there was no rescue for the visitors in the 74th minute when former Wolverhampton Wanderers midfielder Nenad Milijas sent a stooping header into the far corner after livewire Kasalica delivered a well weighed cross from the right.
Partizan missed their final chance to snatch a point when substitute Nikola Ninkovic shot high and wide after Red Star failed to clear their lines.
“We had only ourselves to blame for losing ground on Partisan and our self-confidence in the run-up to the derby, but following a poor first half the lads showed character and Milivojevic’s goal got us back on the rails,” Red Star coach Aleksandar Jankovic told a news conference.
”They played their hearts out and we are delighted our fans finally have something to cheer about after we beat a tough and more experienced team to haul ourselves back into the title race.
“But we can afford no more slip-ups.”
Jankovic’s counterpart Vladimir Vermezovic was disappointed.
“The lead we built through some hard work came crumbling down in the second half and we have to look at why we fizzed out after the break,” he said. (Editing by Mark Meadows)