Moscow – Andre Villas-Boas marked his first game in charge of Zenit St Petersburg with a 2-1 home win against Samara in the Russian Premier League on Monday, Brazilian star Hulk scoring twice.
Hulk netted either side of half-time and goalkeeper Yury Lodygin saved two penalties as Zenit bounced back from their Champions League exit last midweek to stay within three points of leaders Lokomotiv Moscow in second place.
Beneath them, the Moscow trio of Spartak, Dinamo and CSKA are all four points further back, with CSKA winning 3-0 at bottom club Anzhi Makhachkala, also on Monday.
“We played really well in the early stages but after the break the team started to tire,” said the 36-year-old Villas-Boas, who replaced the sacked Italian Luciano Spalletti in the Zenit dugout.
“But we managed to win a second consecutive match and that's the main thing about today's encounter.”
Zenit may have been eliminated from the Champions League 5-4 on aggregate by Borussia Dortmund in the last 16 last week, but they did bow out with a 2-1 win in Germany under interim coach Sergei Semak.
And they took just five minutes to open the scoring on Villas-Boas's debut as Hulk converted from the penalty spot after Alexander Kerzhakov was fouled in the area.
Six minutes after the break, Hulk netted his second of the match, beating Samara 'keeper Sergei Veremko from close range, but the visitors reduced the arrears just three minutes later through Ibrahim Tsallagov.
Samara were then awarded a penalty just before the hour mark following a handball offence by Viktor Faizulin, but Lodygin parried Luis Caballero's effort from 12 yards and denied Stanislav Dragun's attempt from the rebound.
Indeed, Lodygin turned out to be the hero as he kept out another Caballero penalty midway through the second period.
Reigning champions CSKA kept their title hopes alive with a comfortable win against Anzhi, Ivorian forward Seydou Doumbia scoring twice before Ahmed Musa rounded off the scoring in the 76th minute.
Leaders Lokomotiv won 3-0 at home to Ural Yekaterinburg on Saturday. – Sapa-AFP