Levadia halted Sillamäe’s winning run with a tight 1-0 victory at Sillamäe stadium, extending their own impressive defensive record away from home (still only one goal conceded on the road all season). The match was lacking in any real quality, and it was a Dmitri Kruglov free kick from the right that was missed by everyone in the box, managing to find its way past Mihhail Lavrentjev in the Sillamäe goal to separate the two sides.
Roman Smishko also saved a late Evgeny Kabaev penalty, as his phenomenal goal-scoring run finally came to an end, but a negative for Levadia was the withdrawal of Dragomir Vukobratovic after just three minutes with what looked to be a serious arm injury.
Sillamäe were unchanged from their 8-1 thrashing of Kalev, with Evgeny Kabaev leading the line, supported by Daniil Ratnikov, Kyrylo Silich and Stanislav Murikhin. Daniil Ratnikov partnered Deniss Tjapkin in the centre of midfield, with the former switching places with Murikhin throughout the game.
Levadia made two changes from their 3-0 win over Paide last time out, as Jere Julius Aallikko and Artjom Artjunin made way for Toni Tipuric and Ilja Antonov. 4-4-2 remains their preferred formation following the departure of Vladislav Ivanov, with Igor Subbotin partnering Ingemar Teever up front, Ilja Antonov moving on to the right side of midfield, and Kruglov on the left flank in place of the injured Omar Elhussieny.
Buoyed by their recent winning run Sillamäe started strongly, with Kabaev breaking away from Artur Pikk down the right, but his low cross into the box was too far in front of his team mates.
Just two minutes later, Vukobratovic was left writhing in pain on the floor clutching his wrist. The Levadia physio immediately signalled the midfielder required substituting and, following a Sillamäe free kick routine which saw Kabaev’s appeal for a penalty turned down after being bundled over in the box, Jan Penic came on to replace Vukobratovic.
The change saw Antonov slot in to the centre with Penic going out wide on the right.
Sillamäe kept up their early momentum, with Silich seeing a fair amount of the ball on the edge of the box, but Levadia looked keen to get the ball forward with pace and directness.
In the 16th minute, Levadia began to turn the tide a little as Penic had a shot blocked at the far post following a few post-corner headers in the Sillamäe box.
Subbotin was making a nuisance of himself, drifting out wide to retrieve the ball and giving support to Kruglov, before Antonov crashed a shot over the bar from outside the box in the 18th minute
Levadia had halted the early Sillamäe pressure before trying to assert themselves on proceedings, but the game began to go a little flat as chances were few and far between.
On 28 minutes, Kruglov struck a low free kick from 30 yards out that Lavrentjev was able to hold on the second attempt, before Ratnikov was booked for a foul on Antonov.
Sillamäe made a first half change of their own, with the seemingly unscathed Silich making way for Yaroslav Kvasov in what was a fairly straight swap.
Both sides were playing fairly directly, with Sillamäe sending a few hopeful balls into the box to little avail. Dubokin and Kvasov were struggling to make an impact for Sillamäe, as most of their play came through Ratnikov, and Levadia’s main threat was from Kruglov and Subbotin on the left.
Subbotin saw a 37th minute shot from outside the box go well wide before Dubokin could only head a right-wing cross back across goal and away from danger with Smishko stranded.
Sidorenkov saw yellow for Sillamäe five minutes before the break for a barge on Subbotin down the right, and this proved to be the game’s turning point. The resulting free kick was whipped in to the centre by Kruglov, and with Teever’s attempt to meet it distracting the keeper the ball managed to squirm its way through the crowd and in to the back of the net.
Teever ran off celebrating, but it appeared that the only touch was from Kruglov’s boot as he struck the free kick. The game had had few chances until that point and it was fitting that a moment of sheer luck had broken the deadlock. Sillamäe might point fingers at their two-man wall, as neither player jumped to block the free kick.
A Kruglov booking aside, the goal was the final piece of first half action and the referee brought a cagey 45 minutes to an end.
The game commenced after the break in similar fashion to how it had ended. Neither side were able to create any clear cut chances, with Kabaev’s 52nd minute header dropping on top of the Levadia net, and Kvasov’s scrambled chance being put wide from the resulting corner.
Levadia’s next opening was a decent one, as Antonov controlled the ball into the area and let fly with a half volley that Lavrentjev did well to stop flying into the top corner.
A couple of substitutions followed for Sillamäe, as Nikolay Mashichev and Igor Cheminava came on for Murikhin and Dudarev, the latter receiving a booking for a foul on Penic minutes before his departure.
Kabaev’s first real involvement for some time came on 68 minutes, as his run down the left saw him cut on to his right foot before striking a low shot straight at Smishko. He was in action again two minutes later as Volodin whipped in a fantastic deep ball from wide out right, which Ratnikov managed to hook back across goal, but Kabaev couldn’t get enough on it to force an equaliser.
Kabaev’s revival took another turn on 71 minutes, as a long ball from Dubokin was flicked on by Ratnikov, and Kabaev was adjudged to have been wrestled to the floor in the box by Tipuric, who was less than impressed with the decision.
Kabaev dusted himself down to take the spot kick, but his effort just off centre was easily saved by the outstretched hand of the diving Smishko. It had been Sillamäe best chance of the match to get back on terms and they hadn’t shown enough previously to suggest they had much more in them.
Minutes later, Volodin put in another ball from the right but again Ratnikov and Kabaev couldn’t get the critical touch to turn it goalwards.
At the other end, Levadia were almost anonymous. Penic’s header from a right-wing cross looped on to the top of the Sillamäe goal as they began to try and close the game out. Kabaev was a little isolated up top and Levadia had kept him quiet for the majority of the match.
Artjom Artjunin came on with three minutes to go in place of earlier substitute Penic, as Levadia saw out the remaining minutes as industriously as they had done the previous 45.
It certainly had not been a barnstorming performance by the reigning champions, but they sat on their goal when it came and shut out the league’s form team well.
Sillamäe will be disappointed, but they had been marginally the better team and will hope to bounce back next time out. The result sees Levadia remain in second, one point off leaders Flora. Sillamäe five points off the final European spot and nine off the top.