Today was the last Russian League game of the year and it presented another great opportunity for Lokomotiv to climb closer to the top of the Russian table as CSKA and Zenit had both dropped points the previous day. Loko, CSKA, and Zenit have all looked like exhausted teams recently and the winter break is coming at a good time for us all. Going into the break on a high note and with some confidence was of the utmost importance tonight but unfortunately, only a hard fought point was won and our defensive frailties were exposed again in a 2-2 draw with Ural.
The small crowd was stunned after only two minutes when a perfect cross from Kulakov found Sapeta who neatly deflected past Guilherme to give the visitors a shock 1-0 lead. It didn't last for long, however. In the 18th minute, Yanbaev played a ball into Niasse who squeezed past two defenders then laid it back to Miranchuk who fired home, leveling the score. Niasse could have put us ahead, but failed to reach the ball in time when it was parried into his path by the goalkeeper. Shortly after, Ural struck back when a long, looping pass from Fidler found Manucharyan who ran clear of our defense in the same way Sporting tore us apart and blasted a shot which rattled off the post and into the goal. Loko had a chance to go into the half on equal terms, but Mykhalyk somehow missed a header from point blank range.
The second half was all Lokomotiv as Ural barely managed to get the ball out of their own half. Despite this pressure, there weren't many good chances for the Railwaymen and it was only in the 80th minute that we leveled the score. Substitute Maicon's shot was saved by Zhevnov, but it bounced right to Niasse who tapped it in. With ten minutes left to play, plenty of time, Loko irritatingly changed their approach and started launching long balls down the field instead of building up their attack which had been working leading up to the goal. This ensured that the remaining time would be uneventful and the match ended at 2-2.
Loko remained in 3rd place and even though it seems like we've missed a lot of opportunities, before the season I didn't expect us to be ranked so high. To put things into perspective, in July a made a list of four goals for Lokomotiv and I decided that they would successful if they accomplished two.
1. Win the Super Cup (failed, but so close!)
2. Top 5 in the league (accomplished, 3rd place)
3. Alive in the Russian Cup (failed)
4. Qualify from our Europa League group (pending, but with a great chance)
So even though we've fallen on hard times recently, our autumn campaign has been pretty successful. One match remains in Albania next Thursday versus Skenderbeu. If Loko can earn just a single point and advance from their group, we'll have a lot to look forward to in the spring after the long three month winter break.