Russian Premier League strugglers Sibir Novosibirsk injected life into their survival battle by winning at Rostov last weekend. But with relegation rivals Krylya Sovetov Samara winning yesterday, Sibir knew they had to take three points against last season’s champions here to maintain any hopes they had of surviving.
Rubin came into the game in second place, wearied from playing Barcelona in the Champions League in the week, and knowing they also needed three points for their own domestic cause – keeping on the trail of runaway leaders, Zenit.
The sides’ league positions showed immediately – Rubin were superior to Sibir from the off. Without possession, they pressed high and in numbers, while with it, they were decisive and clever, and kept Aleksei Medvedev – back at his old club for the first time – well fed.
Sibir neglected to press, and found congesting the centre wasn’t preventing Rubin’s one-two moves that were easily keeping the ball in the final-third.
The visitors had a range of options in attack: Carlos Eduardo and Alan Kasaev dovetailed superbly – the Brazilian taking the back seat by making diagonal dummy runs that let the energetic Russian cut inside.
With the equally classy Christian Noboa nearby, the trio worked several sumptuous triangles to great effect.
Over on the right, Oleg Kuzmin and Andrei Gorbanets performed complementarily. Unfortunately, Gorbanets’ weak delivery too often wasted Rubin’s breakaways.
Nevertheless, Medvedev was given plenty of opportunities to open the scoring. Sibir’s defence, deep, flat, and entrenched, panicked whenever a ball located their former striker, but goalkeeper Petr Vašek was on top form.
Bibras Natkho was the man launching the infinite waves of Rubin chances. The Israel international covered more kilometres than anyone on the pitch, and didn’t waste a single pass.
With Sibir constantly kicking long and looking to play on the counter, Natkho was always there to collect the loose ball or make the tackle, before playing an instant and incisive through-pass.
In spite of Natkho’s toil, Sibir’s diamond-shaped front-four did occasionally expose the casual visiting defence and won a few set-pieces. They also brought the game’s best save, when Ivan Nagibin’s right-footed thunderbolt was parried superbly by Sergei Ryzhikov.
But, the decision-making on Sibir’s attacks was generally wasteful. They got enough men forward, including two direct wingers (Aleksandr Degtyaryov running inside, and Tomáš Čížek head-down and to the byline), but no two players operated on the same wavelength.
With the visitors often opting to go long from Ryzhikov’s restarts (building from the back wasn’t going to draw this Sibir team onto them), Rubin confidently pushed both full-backs into the opposition’s half.
But when a loose ball fell in favour of Sibir, Čížek was fed to attack the space left by Kuzmin, and won a throw after dragging César Navas across.
The Czech winger took the throw himself, feeding the diagonal-dart of Polish colleague Bartłomiej Grzelak. Rubin, not yet in position defensively, went with the safe option and sent the arrowed throw-in out for a corner-kick.
Čížek characteristically power-whipped the set-piece in on his right foot; there, meeting it at the near-post – far too comfortably – was Steeve (sic) Joseph-Reinette! Cristian Ansaldi, marking him, had switched off, and let the Frenchman guide a header beyond the helpless Ryzhikov.
Fifteen minutes separated Sibir’s goal and the interval, and although a new-found sense of purpose, urgency and energy didn’t make the quality of their final balls improve, it did at least stifle Rubin’s attack.
Gurban Berdiýew’s side so nearly levelled on two occasions, however – Ansaldi shaving the post after a clever cut-in on his right foot, and Eduardo hitting it from an awkward position on the byline after sneaking past the ball-watching Tomáš Vychodil.
The initial cross had come from Gorbanets, but this wasn’t enough to save him from being hauled off at the interval. He and Ansaldi were replaced by Vitali Kaleshin and Sergei Kornilenko.
Sibir reverted to a 4-4-1-1 formation, looking to hold on to their slender advantage. But mere minutes into the second half, a speculative cross into the box from Kuzmin saw Joseph-Reinette shove Medvedev, and Rubin were awarded a penalty kick. Noboa made no mistake from the spot, and suddenly the initiative was back in Rubin’s hands.
Invigorated by the even greater amount of freedom handed to both full-backs, Rubin created a bucket load of chances against the error prone Sibir defence.
Yet Rubin were so wasteful – and Vašek so impenetrable – you wondered if Sibir might nick a goal on the break. With the away side’s defence composed of two men, Degtyaryov therefore proved a useful outlet on the wing.
Dragging Salvatore Bocchetti across, the Italian was forced into tripping the right-winger on the chalk of Ryzhikov’s penalty area at one point. The resulting free-kick from Čížek was very nearly turned in at the back post by Natkho.
But it was Bocchetti who appeared to win the game for Rubin with just ten minutes remaining. Noboa and Natkho played a short corner on the left, and the Israeli delicately curled in a cross to the back-post.
The centre-backs marking Medvedev and Bocchetti at the back-post left them with too much space, and the former Genoa man set himself nicely before blasting home! His celebration was one of sheer joy – concluding with him sprinting to the bench to give unused substitute Obafemi Martins a hug.
Poor old Sibir. Promoted only last season, their team lacks the requisite experience needed to cut it at this level. And in Medvedev’s absence, they lack a natural goal-poacher. However…
About 35 yards from goal, Dmitry Molosh lined-up a free-kick – the Belarussian can be devastating from such distances. But this time, his left-footer was parried by a rattled Ryzhikov. Yet there, tapping-in like any great goal-hanger should be, was substitute Roman Belyayev!
It was fantastic drama and very poignant. Belyayev is a product of the Sibir youth academy, and has only got his chance in the first team due to Medvedev leaving.
And the supposed marker who allowed the young Russian get to the ball? Who else but Medvedev!
The last few minutes were chaotic. Kasaev crashed a shot off the underside of the bar, and Kaleshin collected a second yellow card in injury time.
It’s hard to say a draw was a fair reflection of the game as Rubin could quite conceivably have notched up a cricket score were it not for the home side’s ‘keeper and their own profligacy.
Unfortunately, a point probably won’t keep Sibir up, as they’re six points behind Samara with seven games remaining. As for Zenit, they now know Rubin dropping two points means winning their three games in hand gives them a surely insurmountable 12-point lead.