Wednesday, 6 April 2011

First division preview 07.04.2011

After a strong season opener on Monday marred by a shocking penalty decision against Ural (above), here's a look at what to expect from Thursday's second round of games. I'll be watching the Fakel-Shinnik game and commenting on Twitter (@jellingworth).

Fakel Voronezh - Shinnik Yaroslavl (2pm GMT)

Thursday's TV game pits new boys Fakel against Shinnik. City-wise, there's a lot of history: Voronezh is known as the "birthplace of the Russian fleet" and Yaroslavl has so many pretty churches that Unesco made it a World Heritage Site. In football terms, this might not be the most attractive game of the season, though.

Fakel are back in the First Division after a five-year absence due to financial collapse and then being thrown out of the Second Division for bribery. Their first game back was a gritty if unspectacular 1-0 win over Dinamo Bryansk thanks to a good free kick from Dmitrii Shestakov. Fakel seem solidly organised with decent ball retention and a very capable keeper in Roman Gerus. Maxim Romaschenko should provide the creative spark.

Shinnik are a solid mid-table side at this level with a reputation for a tight defence. That said, they lost a few decent players over the winter, and might find life tougher this year. After a routine 2-0 defeat away to Khimki, a win in Voronezh would settle some of the uncertainty. Ivorian Alli N'Dri is a creative full-back with pace but didn't feature in Khimki for unknown reasons, although experienced new signing Konstantin Skrylnikov had a good game in midfield.

Prediction: A draw, but don't be surprised if both sides get aggressive late on. It's a winnable game for either team, and both managers will want to store up points early in the season.

Highlights elsewhere:

The game between Alania and Nizhniy looks like the tie of the round, a battle between last year's almost-promoted side and one of the teams whose RPL place they were chasing. Alania's dominating win over Torpedo Vladimir can be seen here, while Nizhniy beat Volgar-Gazprom AstrakhanThe other match between two of Monday's winners is the Gazovik Orenburg - Zhemchuzhina-Sochi tie. Newcomers Gazovik battled to a win over Chernomorets on Monday but will have to step up against fancied Zhemchuzhina, who have severe problems of their own with teamwork. The Sochi team's opponents last time out were Ural, who looked a solid unit and created much more than the 3-1 defeat suggests. They remain outside promotion candidates, and should cope easily with Chernomorets at home. Sibir, relegated from the Premier League last year, host Baltika Kaliningrad. Sibir have one of the strongest squads in the league and did well against Torpedo Moscow last time out. Baltika have sorted out paperwork for three new players who will be available, so they may raise their game after a disappointing goalless draw with Yenisei.

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