On the opening day of the 2012-13 Russian Premier League, Krylya Sovetov vs Terek did not seem to many people to be the highlight of the weekend. Their thoughts would be proved accurate, with the match between the two sides finishing much the same as the one which concluded the previous season – Terek taking the lead only for the Samara side to peg them back and earn a 1-1 draw.
The following matchday saw Terek scrape past Krasnodar 1-0 to make it four points from two games, but a team which has Ramzan Kadyrov involved cannot possibly be renowned for its stability and consistently. In round three, Terek travelled to Vladikavkaz to face newly-promoted Alania, and the result went beyond the hosts’ most ambitious plans. Terek goalkeeper Anton Amelchenko saw red in the opening moments of the game, and Danilo Neco finally converted the penalty after a five minute delay. Playing for an hour with ten men and the rest of the match with nine after Oleg Ivanov’s dismissal, Terek collapsed, travelling home on the wrong end of a 5-0 thrashing.
Whether or not something was said after the Alania game, something then began to happen to the Chechen club – they begin to win. Under the guidance of Stanislav Cherchesov, whose previous managerial job had seen him occupy the dugout for the now-defunct First Division side Zhemchuzhina Sochi following an unsuccessful time in the Spartak hotseat two years before, a win at lowly Volga was followed by an eventful 2-1 win at struggling Dinamo which saw as many red cards as goals.
Still, it was not for a few more weeks that people began to realise that Terek were a real threat to the top sides – after all, Dinamo lost each of the first five games before picking up so much as a point. The first side to feel the force of the Grozny club’s late-game flurry were Cherchesov’s old team Spartak, who surrendered a 1-0 lead in the closing stages of the game to leave the Caucasus empty-handed. A trip to Tatarstan and Rubin came next, this time Mitrishev’s winner coming in the 86th minute, before the high-profile debut of Zenit newcomers Hulk and Witsel was overshadowed by a late double in St Petersburg, Ailton and Lebedenko netting in the 85th and 94th minutes to beat the champions.
That result briefly catapulted Terek to the top of the Premier League standings, and whilst they have since fallen from that lofty perch – a run of three defeats in five matches dropping them to 4th place – it has become clear to all but the most naive of observers that the Chechen side are now capable of competing at the right end of the table. In recent years Terek have been something of a makeweight side in the top flight, never in too much danger of relegation but failing to threaten at the top. Indeed, it has often been Terek’s off-field activities which have drawn attention to the club.
This season however, things have been different. Whilst their ability to find late goals on such a regular basis has undoubtedly been key to their rise up the table, it would be ignorant not to credit Cherchesov and his men with more than simple determination. Last season, Terek struggled in front of goal, averaging just a goal a game and finishing with a -17 goal difference befitting of a season which ended with the Chechens just four points clear of Rostov and the relegation play-offs. This year, whilst not vastly improving their goalscoring form – although the signing of striker Ailton from APOEL look set to change things – it is their defensive solidity which has made the biggest difference.
Indeed, ignoring the aberration at Alania, Terek’s record stands at 17 goals and 12 conceded from a dozen games. Whilst in front of goal those statistics are nothing special, it is a defensive record better than that of last year’s runners-up Spartak, and even including the Alania haul is only two or three more than the likes of Anzhi and the notoriously defensive Rubin, both sides who would expect to be finishing above Terek at the end of the season.
It is unlikely that Anzhi will drop below their Caucasian brethren, but Rubin are by no means certain to overtake the Chechens before the season’s end. As it stands, Kurban Berdyev’s men trail Terek by four points with the season almost at the halfway stage, whilst Cherchesov can look forward to a second set of fixtures competing for a European berth. Tactically, he has played to his side’s strengths, employing a firm defence led by old warhorse Martin Jiranek behind a midfield not afraid to create through the likes of Adilson and veteran Blagoy Georgiev. Ball retention has not been prioritised at the expense of quick ball movement, and with Ailton and Lebedenko, not to mention a wealth of young striking talent on the bench, ready to turn in the chances, they have a recipe for success.
As far as this season, and indeed the foreseeable future is concerned, Terek still lack the depth of talent and resources required to compete at the very top of the Russian game, with the likes of Zenit, Anzhi and recent conquerors CSKA all possessing deeper pockets and deeper squads. However, given that at any given time at least one or two Russian sides find themselves in a crisis of form – Spartak seemingly the current club lacking confidence and wins – Terek’s increased levels of consistency are a crucial weapon in their bid to sneak up the standings.
Currently ahead of Lokomotiv and both Krasnodar sides as well as the aforementioned Spartak and Rubin, Terek will enter the second half of the season in high spirits and with every chance of converting their bright start into an end-of-year reward. Along with the league, there is also hope of repeating their cup success from 2004 – an extra time win over Lokomotiv sees them through to the last eight to play Rostov – and the general consensus from those in Grozny seems to be that there is genuine belief that this could be a special. Even if it proves otherwise, it should provide an excellent platform on which to build.