Welcome to the Olesya Kurochkina Show, Starring Olesya Kurochkina

One player stole the spotlight on matchday eight of the Russian Superliga – Olesya Kurochkina; the veteran forward single-handedly took apart Chertanovo and spearheaded Zvezda-2005 Perm to a huge victory that saw them inch closer to second in the table. Elsewhere, Lokomotiv Moscow’s struggles continue and pacesetters CSKA are slowly starting to give themselves a nice cushion at the top of the table. Let’s recap the action.

The second half of the season kicked off in Krasnoyarsk, as Yenisey welcomed Lokomotiv. The hosts took a surprising lead against last season’s runners-up after Lok captain Anna Kozhnikova was adjudged to have handled the ball in the box; Tatyana Ananyeva duly converted the ensuing spot kick. 2019 golden boot winner Nelli Korovkina bundled the ball home just a few minutes later to tie up the game, but the visitors just could not find a winner. I’m sure Lina Yakupova would have hoped for a better present on her 30th birthday, but alas, Lok’s struggles continue – three draws in their last three games and only one goal scored. Yenisey, on the other hand, maintain their decent run of form and the Siberians will be very happy with that point.

Speaking of birthdays, there were not one but two in the following match-up between Chertanovo and Zvezda. Perm’s Anastasia Berendeeva celebrated her 34th birthday and captain Olesya Kurochkina her 37th, and boy, did she ever reward herself. The forward scored a hat-trick as her side completely demolished the Devils.

The Zvezda captain opened the scoring just three minutes into the encounter, tucking away a rebound after Chertanovo ‘keeper Diana Ponomareva made two decent saves. The hosts thought they equalized mere moments later, but Viktoria Dubova’s header was ruled offside. Ponomareva didn’t have her most illustrious moment on Kurochkina’s second strike; the 37-year-old’s overhead kick should have been gobbled up by the shot-stopper with relative ease, yet it somehow found its way into the back of the net. The ruthless visitors refused to relent and Kurochkina eventually finished off her hat-trick in the second half. Goals from Sofia Shishkina and Nadezhda Ilinikh – both set up by Kurochkina – completed the rout.

With three goals and two assists, Olesya Kurochkina served up a performance for the ages and she did it on her 37th birthday. She now leads the golden boot race with seven goals to her name and Zvezda close the gap to second, while Chertanovo’s rotten run of form continues.

Concurrently, league leaders CSKA traveled to Krasnodar’s humble abode. Nadezhda Smirnova brought back her distinctive braids for the first time since last season and she donned the captain’s armband in the absence of the still-injured Elvira Todua, too. Smirnova meant business, but it was by no means a vintage CSKA performance, with the hosts giving a very good account of themselves. The Moscow outfit probed yet rarely found a way through Krasnodar’s resolute defense, until the captain delivered an inch-perfect corner kick for Yulia Myasinkova to head home right before half time.

The game continued in a similar vein in the second half. Gaby Onguéné won a penalty in the 60th minute, which Smirnova confidently stroked home, and at that point, you fancied the league leaders to comfortably see out the game. Krasnodar, however, had other ideas. The hosts pulled one back through captain Yana Chub and gave CSKA a right old scare, but in the end, it was too little too late. Four points now separate the two big Moscow sides atop the table with six games to play. Krasnodar, meanwhile, shouldn’t be too discouraged by this result. It was a solid performance from a team that has firmly entrenched itself in mid-table.

The final match of the round pitted Zenit against Ryazan. The home side went into the game high on confidence after three games without defeat, but that spirit was soon shattered when defensive stalwart Lyudmila Shadrina was sent off in the 43rd minute. Nevertheless, Zenit remained competitive throughout, but ultimately it was too steep a mountain to climb and when Ryazan found the net in the 85th minute, any last resistance was broken. Maria Vukovich punished the hosts for some exceptionally lackluster defending off a corner. Ryazan are quietly putting together a solid season and are only a point behind Zvezda.

As we head into the international break, it is the first prolonged stoppage of play this season (except for CSKA and Yenisey, who play each other on the 12th) and a good opportunity for players to recharge after a relentless early schedule that saw them play every fixture on short rest. It also presents a chance for Chertanovo coach Sergei Lavrentyev to tinker a bit and come up with fresh ideas; his side is still searching for its first point.

One person who won’t be able to use this break to relax is Lok coach Elena Fomina. She will have her hands full these next couple of weeks, as she tries to juggle club commitments – i.e trying to convince her team not to give up on the title race – and coaching the Russian senior national side. What an unenviable task!

header image provided by the talented neptunianka

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