FC Infonet put a huge dent in Levadia’s title hopes as they came away from their trip to Kadriorg Stadium with a 3-2 victory.
The visitors took a 2-0 lead into the half-time break, courtesy of goals from Aidara and Trevor Elhi. Levadia dragged themselves back level with two goals in 5 minutes from Teever and Subbotin, before Manucho pounced on an error to give his side the points.
After the interesting decision to field a full-strength side against Sparta Prague in midweek. despite being 7-0 down from the first leg, Levadia made only one change that side.
Ilja Antonov was replaced by Marek Kaljumae alongside Andreas Raudsepp, as Levadia reverted back to their more familiar 4-4-2 system. Vladislav Ivanov moved back up front to partner Ingemar Teever, with Jan Penic and Igor Subbotin supporting from the left and right respectively.
FC Infonet also made one change from their previous match, with Alexander Semakhin starting in an unfamiliar right-midfield role in place of Maksim Lipin. Manucho continued up front, supported from behind by Aidara, with Oleg Valov on the left.
The match began at a decent pace, but in a relatively cagey fashion, with chances being limited in the opening exchanges.
Infonet were looking to get the ball wide to Valov and Semakhin, and were playing with a confidence that matches their recent run of form.
Levadia’s early focus was down the left of midfield, but a couple of balls into the box failed to threaten, as both sides tried to feel out the game.
The first chance came after eight minutes, as Valov’s cross from the left found Melts, but his weak swivelled shot was easily collected by Smishko.
Manucho then shot straight at Smishko Semakhin’s flick header from Nahk’s free kick zipped wide of the post, and Viktor Avilov tried his luck after collecting a pass from Valov, as Infonet began to take some sort of control on proceedings.
Levadia on the other hand looked sluggish. Their European exploits appeared to be taking their toll, as they were failing to support each other in both defence and attack. Nahk and Melts were doing their job in the centre of the park, crowding out Levadia’s midfield and forcing them to go wide.
The host's first chance saw Penic collect the ball on the left of the box, but his shot from a tight angle was easily saved by Igonen.
Another headed chance came for Semakhin, as Nahk’s dangerous free kick from the right was put high and wide from a good position. It was a let-off for Levadia, but the danger was to return with a vengeance minutes later.
Any discomfort Semakhin might have been feeling with his unfamiliar role on the right of midfield was thrust away, as his inch perfect cross found Aidara, who had peeled off of Toni Tipuric in the centre, and he headed the ball confidently past Smishko into the corner of the net.
Infonet had been the better team until that point and had taken full advantage of a sleepy-looking Levadia to get their reward. Valov was full of running on the left, and Aidara was finding plenty of space in behind the Levadia midfield, who seemed unable to be in the right places at the right times.
Their response was limited, with Ivanov having two half-chances that failed to threaten Igonen, and their inability to stem the tide was to bite them on the backside seven minutes after going behind.
Following Tipuric’s booking for a cynical trip on a breaking Trevor Elhi, Valov’s run in behind the Levadia defence gave him time to hold the ball up, deliver a left-footed cross to the back post to find Trevor Elhi, who powered a header off the post and into the back of the net.
Levadia were sinking fast, and their season was threatening to derail itself completely in the space of half a week. Infonet were riding the crest of a wave, and were proving that their recent form wasn’t just a flash in the pan.
The final chance of the half fell to Infonet, as Aidara collected Elhi’s throw from the left, turned, and smashed a shot towards goal that Smishko had to tip over the bar.
The half time whistle came at the right time for Levadia, giving them a chance to regroup and work out how they were going to respond.
Infonet were clearly intent on keeping their lead, but their motivational huddle preceding the start of the second half didn’t appear to do the trick as Levadia came out stronger.
Omar Elhussieny replaced Pikk at the break, and took up his position on the right of midfield, with Igor Subbotin moving further forward.
Teever received the game’s second booking after catching Andrei Kalimullin with a stray arm, before Subbotin headed a Penic cross over from close range.
Levadia’s tempo had picked up, and their support for the man on the ball began to improve. However, it was Infonet who had the game’s next big chance.
Aidara sent Manucho clear down the right, but as the striker cut inside and looked to play the ball across to Valov in space, Artjom Artjunin recovered to block the ball and kill the attack.
It was a let-off for Levadia, and they responded in the perfect way 19 minutes into the second half. Subbotin played a lovely 1-2 with Teever on the right side of the box, before smashing the ball into the net off the underside of the crossbar.
It was an emphatic finish, and a statement of intent from the 2013 champions. Infonet responded by replacing Semakhin and Melts with Saarlas and Malinin, but it was to no avail as they were soon opened up once more.
A low cross from Penic on the left was missed by Subbotin, but an unmarked Ivanov got in between the defence to sweep the ball past Igonen and complete the comeback.
Infonet appeared to have sat on their lead, inviting pressure from Levadia, and they had been made to pay for it.
The game became much more balanced, with Levadia seemingly putting their first half misery behind them.
Trevor Elhi saw his long range dipping effort clear the bar, before Jevgeni Gurtsioglujants came on to replace the hard-working Aidara.
Sensible money would have been on Levadia to go on and complete their comeback by grabbing the game’s next goal, but they were the masters of their own downfall, as Infonet got their noses in front once more just 13 minutes from time.
A poor, blind back-header sent Manucho through on goal, and he had no hesitation in pouncing on the ball and driving beyond the defence, before rounding Smishko and slotting home into the empty net.
The momentum had swung in Levadia’s favour in the second half, but typical of the beauty of football, fate had other ideas.
Levadia looked down and out. They had mustered all of their energies into levelling the tie but another equaliser looked beyond them now.
Aleksandr Dmitrijev came on for Kaljumae as they looked to add some bite to their attack. Subbotin headed an Elhussieny cross over the centre of the goal, before Saarlas was booked for Infonet for a late tackle.
Manucho was dropping back to help defend the lead he had given his side, and Infonet could have extended their lead in the dying minutes, as Malinin tapped home after Valov’s shot was saved following a breakaway, but the linesman’s flag denied them a fourth goal.
The referee called time on a game that had swung one way then the other, and one which could be pivotal in this year’s title race.
Levadia had looked sluggish at times, and their lack of rotation in the last two games might have cost them here. Their return to 4-4-2 against a side with three in the middle also appeared to stunt their attacking abilities, as Infonet used their defensive midfielders to good effect.
Valov had been a thorn in Levadia’s side, and Manucho continued his personal run of good form with an impressive display. Performances like this are why Infonet believed they were pre-season challengers for the title, but the fact that they are few and far between against the good sides means this result has less bearing than they would have hoped.
Levadia remain two points off the top, but the teams around them now have a game in hand and could inflict more misery upon them. They need to respond quickly, otherwise they will find themselves empty-handed after what was looking a promising season.