Levadia Tallinn jumped to the top of the table on goal difference with a comfortable 1-0 win over Narva Trans. Levadia never really looked in any danger, and Aleksei Jahhimovits’ first half header proved to be enough for the hosts on their return to Kadriorg.
Artur Rattel and Arsenij Buinickij led the line for Levadia in a traditional 4-4-2 setup, with Elhussieny and Subbotin providing support from the flanks. Dragomir Vukobratovic started in centre midfield despite him being one booking away from suspension, with Raudsepp retaining his place ahead of Ilja Antonov.
Narva were forced into some defensive changes, with Pavel Avdeev and Vitali Andreev both suspended. Bi Sehi Elysee Irie was shifted back into an unfamiliar defensive role, and Tanel Tamberg slotting in at right back. Aleksandr Eliseenok lead the forward line, with Artjom Shkinjov playing slightly behind him.
Vladislav Fjodorov and Viktor Plotnikov provided the width, but played slightly deeper than normal in what was a 4-4-1-1 formation, changing to their more familiar 4-2-3-1 setup when attacking. Sergejs Misins and Siim Teeno formed the central midfield partnership.
The match started at a good pace, despite neither side really being able to make early progress. Levadia looked more assured in possession of the ball, keeping their patience and knocking it around calmly.
Shkinjov looked keen to strike early on for Narva, and he managed a couple of shots from outside the box which never looked like troubling the keeper, as the visitors looked a little hurried in possession.
The initial caginess slowly faded, however, as Artur Pikk began to find a bit of space overlapping on the left for Levadia, and they were also being afforded a fair amount of time between Narva’s midfield and defensive lines; Subbotin was allowed to stride forward down the middle in the 16th minute, and he unleashed a shot that sailed over the bar.
Elhussieny had the game’s first real chance in the 18th minute; his dragged shot across goal sent Narva keeper Lepmets into a scramble, but he managed to fling himself towards the ball and push it wide with his right hand.
Elhussieny was involved again just two minutes later as he fed Rattel in the centre, who, in turn, sent the ball right to Buinickij. His trickery bought him some space, but his shot across goal was dragged wide of the far post.
Levadia were beginning to gain control, with Elhussieny seeing plenty of the ball on the left, and Rattel threatening with Buinickij on the break.
Elhussieny’s 24th minute corner was headed downwards by Podholjuzin, but Lepmets was again equal to it. Just a minute later, another Elhussieny corner was again met by Podholjuzin, but his flicked header sailed wide of the far post.
Narva’s response was limited. Eliseenok fed Shkinjov on the edge of the box, but his shot sailed harmlessly over the bar. The visitors’ direct game was being cut out by Levadia, and they were struggling to create any threat in response to Levadia’s control of the ball. Irie was struggling a little in his unfamiliar position, and received a first half yellow card for a rash tackle.
The referee had to get involved in the 32nd minute, as Lepmets appeared to kick out at Buinickij, who after challenging for a dropping ball. Both players were given a talking however only Lepmets was shown a yellow card the shot stopper did not complain much at.
The warning signs continued to come for Narva; Rattel played the ball out right to Subbotin, whose shot across goal was parried by Lepmets. As Narva looked to be using up their lives, they were finally undone, but they won’t have been happy with the manner in which they conceded.
Elhussieny’s corner from the left found an onrushing, unmarked Jahhimovits on the penalty spot, who planted his header to the keeper’s left and into the net. Levadia had the lead and it had certainly been coming.
Narva hadn’t been particularly poor, but they were struggling to wrestle the ball from Levadia and were gifting them space.
An acrobatic overhead kick from Buinickij was saved by Lepmets in the 39th minute, before he was played in behind Imie, only for his cut back from the byline to evade his team-mates in the box.
The referee brought the first half to a close, as Levadia were comfortably in control.
Sensing a lack of threat from their opposition, coupled with the lead they had taken, Levadia dropped the pace a little in the second half. They kept control of the ball and fizzed it about at will. Narva, on the other hand, looked a little panicked when they did get the ball, and their counter attacking attempts often fizzled out before reaching the Levadia back line.
The referee was again involved in the 59th minute, as he brandished a yellow card to Sheviakov for seemingly catching Subbotin in the face with his arm.
Chances became few and far between as the second half wore on; Raudsepp played Rattel through in the 67th minute, but his cut back was cleared by Irie.
With fifteen minutes remaining, both sides made changes; Buinickij was replaced by Teever for Levadia, and Narva swapped Shkinjov or Lvov.
Levadia’s pace had dropped and, as a result, they began to lack a cutting edge in the final third. This might have worried them a little had Narva looked like threatening themselves at any point. Irie had recovered from his slightly rash start to form a solid partnership with Nesterovski at the back for Narva, but they would be made to pay for switching off for the first half corner that lead to the goal.
A few long range shots for Levadia was the best they could muster as the game fizzled out. They replaced Subbotin with Marin in the dying minutes, and Narva’s Tanel Tambere picked up a yellow card for a foul on Artjunin, before the referee brought the match to a close and gave Levadia the points.
It had been comfortable for Levadia, who were rarely forced to break a sweat. Jahhimovits’ goal proved to be decisive, as they were never really challenged and took the opportunity to protect what they had.
Narva will point to their recent bad luck and absent players, but their threat as an attacking force was extremely limited and, for that, they have no excuses. The lack of defensive cover from midfield could have been further exploited by Levadia had they needed to make the most of it, but such was the lack of danger posed by Narva it went relatively unpunished.
Man of the Match: Artur Rattel (LEV)