Rostov’s Russian title charge suffers heavy blow with defeat
MOSCOW (AP) — FC Rostov’s unlikely charge for the Russian Premier League title seemed to be running out of steam Sunday as a 2-1 loss to last-placed Mordovia Saransk cost it the chance to return to the top spot.
The team from southern Russia has defied financial problems to sit in first place for much of the season but is now two points behind CSKA Moscow with four games remaining and Zenit St. Petersburg chasing hard in third.
The team from St. Petersburg is two points off Rostov, which holds the second of two Champions League places.
Mordovia seemed easy prey after a week in which its top players refused to train over unpaid wages, but that didn’t stop Sergei Samodin putting the relegation-threatened team into the lead in the 56th minute, the first goal conceded by Rostov in eight league games.
Young Iranian striker Serdar Azmoun put Rostov level soon afterwards, but his work was undone when a clumsy challenge from Cesar Navas gave Mordovia a penalty, converted by Dalibor Stevanovic.
Rostov coach Kurban Berdyev blamed fatigue after the previous week’s much-praised 3-0 win over Zenit.
“It’s clear that the guys aren’t ready to play two games in a row at that same high level,” he said in televised comments.
Rostov’s main rivals had both racked up wins on Thursday, CSKA sweeping past Ural Yekaterinburg in a straightforward 3-0 win while Zenit came from a goal down to beat Kuban Krasnodar 4-1.
Zenit and CSKA were in action early this week because they meet Monday in the Russian Cup final.
Lokomotiv Moscow’s title hopes faded Saturday in a 2-0 loss to Spartak Moscow that leaves the Railwaymen fourth, seven points off the pace. FC Krasnodar is fifth, but could go level with Zenit on Monday if it beats Anzhi Makhachkala.