Levadia moved to within three points of leaders Flora with a 1-0 win over rivals Nõmme Kalju at Kadriorg.
The result also saw them leapfrog Kalju into second, as an Ingemar Teever header in the first half was enough to secure the points. Andreas Raudsepp was dismissed late on for Levadia, but they held on to take the points.
The match was a high-tempo affair, with Levadia’s two-man strike-force proving the difference as Kalju struggled for support at the sharp end of the pitch.
Tarmo Neemelo made a return from injury as the lone striker for Kalju, shifting Felipe Nunes out to the right wing. Wakui started in his familiar central attacking midfield role, with Damiano Quintieri moving to the left, nudging Ken Kallaste to his more familiar left back role. Karl Mool was deployed once more at right back, with Reginald and Mihkel Ainsalu patrolling the centre of the park, and Nicolas Galpin missing out,
Levadia raised a few eyebrows by leaving Igor Subbotin on the bench. Omar Elhussieny took his place on the right with Jan Penic returning on the left wing. The formidable strike-force of Ingemar Teever and Vladimir Ivanov continued at front, with Aleksandr Dmitrijev and Ilja Antonov in the centre of midfield.
The match began at a high tempo, with both teams looking to get the ball forward early on. A couple of early offside calls showed the urgency with which both teams were attacking, and the first chance came in the 7th minute when Teever headed a left-wing cross over the bar from just inside the box.
Kalju’s first chance came a minute later, as Nunes’ low free kick from the edge of the box was deflected just wide of the post by Raudsepp.
The game’s first yellow card came after just 13 minutes, as Toni Tipuric upended a breaking Quintieri on the left, much to the Italian’s frustration.
Levadia had their second chance a minute later, as Elhussieny played in Antonov down the right, and his pass into the centre could only be diverted into the path of Teever by the outstretched Jorge Rodrigues, but Vitali Teles was off his line quickly to block the shot. The resulting corner was then headed over by Teever, as Kalju were struggling to deal with the troublesome striker.
Another hefty challenge, this time from Raudsepp on Wakui, resulted in another yellow card, as the game’s early energy continued to flow through the players.
In the 19th minute, Neemelo chested down a long ball in the area, and his cross-cum-shot fell to the feet of Quintieri right in front of Smishko. The referee’s whistle had gone for an infringement, however, and Levadia were able to breathe a sigh of relief.
Nunes and Quintieri were playing fairly narrowly at times, aiding Kalju’s cause in the middle. Elhussieny was seeing enough of the ball too, with the overlapping full backs providing some good support in their pursuit of finding Teever and Ivanov.
Clear chances began to dry up slightly, with Artur Pikk striking a 25-yard shot just over the ball following Teever’s flick-on from a Raudsepp throw, and at the other end Neemelo’s tame shot on the turn was easily collected by Smishko just before the half hour mark.
Kalju then had a chance to break 2-on-2, but Quintieri couldn’t find Nunes on the right wing when in a promising position, before Levadia struck the first blow in the 34th minute. It was a simple goal too, as Teever escaped the attention of Rodrigues to head home Elhussieny’s in-swinging left-wing corner.
Levadia had perhaps had the better chances until that point, but it was the first piece of clinical finishing from either side and gave the game the goal it deserved for its frenetic opening period. Levadia celebrated in great voice, but two minutes later Kalju could so easily have silenced them.
Damiano Quintieri robbed Tipuric in the middle of the park, as the Levadia defender failed to deal with a Neemelo flick-on, and was wise to the fact he was already on a yellow card. Kalju’s talismanic Italian was clean through on goal, but his attempt to round Smishko was excellently denied by the keeper, and Quintieri was left to rue a missed opportunity so quickly after his side had conceded the opener.
Three minutes before the break, Elhussieny linked up with Teever once more down the right, as he played the striker in to space on the edge of the box, but Teles was once again off his line quickly to block the subsequent shot with his legs.
The referee brought to an end a half of football in which both sides had played at high tempo, with Levadia playing slightly more fluidly, supporting each other well in attacking and overlapping well on the wings.
Kalju posed a decent amount of threat of their own, but appeared to lack the support they needed in the middle that Ivanov and Teever were providing Levadia with.
Neither side had managed to firmly grasp control of the centre of the park, with a number of direct balls creeping into their games, with Estonia national team coach Magnus Pehrrson highlighting a lack of play through midfield as the main issue arising from the first 45 minutes.
The half time break also saw Levadia make an attacking change. Jan Penic, who had had a fairly quiet first half, was replaced by Igor Subbotin in what was a straight swap.
Levadia started the second period brightly, with Ivanov and Teever exchanging passes, sending the former in to space on the left. His ball into the centre found Antonov, but he couldn’t quite evade the presence of the Kalju defence to get a decent shot away.
A minute later, Kalju’s Felipe Nunes couldn’t quite get on the end of a good through ball by Quintieri, as Artjunin was on hand to avert the danger.
Kalju were knocking the ball around quickly, but were still finding Levadia’s defence too solid for their liking. Levadia had also kept their pace up, as they looked to drive forward more directly than Kalju, and Teles was again called into action early in the second half.
Ivanov formed part of a quick breakaway in the centre, but decided to strike a shot at Teles from outside the box rather than feed Teever who had peeled off into space on the left.
It was then Kalju’s turn to break, as Felipe Nunes found space on the right, but his left-footed shot when cutting inside was blocked wide by Pikk. Wakui then headed the resulting corner harmlessly wide of the post.
Levadia made a change on 56 minutes, as Maksim Podholjuzin replaced Artjunin, with Kalju’s first change coming after 65 minutes, as Robert Kirss replaced Felipe Nunes. The Kalju frontman had had an industrious game on the right, but appeared a little uncomfortable away from his more familiar central striker role.
Kalju were full of endeavour, but seemed to be falling just short at the final hurdle in front of goal. Wakui’s influence on the game was sporadic, and Neemelo wasn’t getting the support he needs as a target man.
Mool’s long ball into the box found the chest of Quintieri, whose shot on the turn was saved by Smishko at the same time as the referee blew for a handball, before Jarmo Ahjupera replaced Ainsalu for Kalju with 16 minutes to go.
Despite their precious lead, Levadia appeared unwilling to sit back too much, mixing some organised defending with some positive forward passing. Kalju were becoming a little more desperate, and their passing became longer and more direct with each passing minute.
The introduction of Marek Kaljumae for Ivanov on 78 minutes signalled a shift in focus for Levadia, however, with the midfielder’s introduction an attempt to help retain possession and stifle Kalju ever further.
Kalju’s response was to replace Quintieri, who had faded somewhat, with Galpin, who slotted in at left back, shifting Ken Kallaste into the left midfield role he has been occupying in recent weeks.
The newly-reinforced Levadia midfield was beginning to play its part, as Kalju were being pressed heavily in the centre of the park, and were struggling to spark any sort of meaningful attack.
The action was far from over, however, as two moments of drama took place seven minutes from time. Firstly, Karl Mool’s long ball into the box was chested down by Barengrub into the path of Kalju’s Premium Liiga’s all-time scorer Tarmo Neemelo. The striker had his first clear sight of goal in the match just to the left of centre, but managed to agonisingly drag his left-foot shot wide of the far post.
It seemed like it wasn’t to be Kalju’s day, but they were given a lifeline moments later as Levadia’s Andreas Raudsepp was dismissed for catching Ken Kallaste in the head with a trailing arm.
Moments previously it had looked like Levadia would comfortably close the game out with the use of a 5-man midfield, but suddenly they were on the back foot and under serious threat.
Constant pressure from Kalju saw balls slid, slung and cannoned into the box, but they couldn’t seem to make their newly-presented numerical advantage count.
Marko Kristal cut an animated figure on the touchline, and Neemelo was to give the Levadia boss another moment of panic two minutes from time. Wakui’s in-swinging cross from the left found the Kalju striker in space at the far post, but his composure deserted him and he powered his header inexplicably across goal and out for a goal kick.
It was a frantic finish to a game which had rarely dropped in pace, and it was almost rounded off by an acrobatic overhead kick by Wakui from Karl Mools cross, but the Japanese playmaker’s effort failed to trouble Smisko as the game entered four minutes of stoppage time.
Elhussieny blazed a shot over from a wide position following a short corner, as Kalju just couldn’t force their way to goal, despite an immense spell of pressure in the Levadia half.
The team in green were able to secure some last-minute possession high up the pitch as the referee called time on a fantastic advert for Estonian football.
Ingemar Teever’s first half header turned out to be the difference between the two sides, as Kalju just couldn’t give their attack the support it needed.
Levadia deserved the win for that extra bit of clinical edge they showed, and the Premium Liiga title race took yet another twist with no team appearing capable of stamping their authority on proceedings.
The result sees Levadia jump above Kalju in the table, and they now sit just three points behind Flora, who could only draw 2-2 with Infonet yesterday.
Kalju remain five points off top spot, but will be looking over their shoulders with trepidation as Infonet lurk just four points behind them in fourth.