Five talking points from the KPL Sunday games as Astana keep improving, Kairat provide promising signs and Shakhter suffering from their own squad member.
Another match at the modest Tarlan Arena, another 3-0 triumph saw them steal top spot from Irtysh Pavlodar. Earlier in the season, there were murmurs of their vulnerability but now FC Astana brought the matter to a close.
After some poor showings, with the champions struggling in midfield, their coach Stanimir Stoilov got a solution in Srdjan Grahovac, a new signing who formed an efficient partnership with pre-season acquisition Ivan Mayewski. Those have replaced last year's Roger Cañas-Nemanja Maksimović duo to become an instrumental part for Astana's recent improvements. Moreover, their target men increased their conversion rate to add to the team's strengths.
They have leadership and personality, they have depth and firepower, they have stamina and vision. And they have a game in hand over their nearest chasers. Perhaps, Astana supporters can start dreaming of the fourth consecutive title.
2. Kairat found their footing
A home clash with Ordabasy Shymkent was a must-win for Kairat Almaty in the wake of their unremarkable run of form and disappointing head-to-head record against the tough opposition from South Kazakhstan (four matches without a victory).
Well, they earned an important morale-boosting result following a convincing 3-0 rout of Alexey Petrushin's men that propelled them to third place. The game, with Kairat's first clean sheet out in five, was decided by excellent Isael and Bauyrzhan Islamkhan, while irresistible league top scorer Gerard Gohou took his season tally to seven goals.
"We've been in a complicated psychological situation and we've discussed it a lot. I'd like to thank lads as they made right conclusions and showed it on the pitch," noted Kairat manager Kakhaber Tskhadadze after his charges managed to prolong their undefeated run to 15 league outings.
3. Making it all square
With Astana and Kairat retaining their usual level, no one from the rest of the league were able to seal a win past weekend, even while facing each other.
Three matches out of five left no winners as Tobol Kostanay failed to beat cellar dwellers Shakhter Karagandy, Kaisar Kyzylorda and Irtysh Pavlodar shared the spoils in a top-six rivalry, and Akzhayik Oral were held by FC Taraz to a goalless tie.
There were tight tactical battles throughout, with teams deciding not to take excessive risks in order to get something from the games. Kaisar-Irtysh encounter was all-Bulgarian coaching affair (Stoycho Mladenov vs Dimitar Dimitrov) and Akzahyik-Taraz matchup presented the duel of two former Kazakhstan national team managers (Vakhid Masudov and Vait Talgayev, two only domestic head coaches in the league). Plus in Temirtau, the Russian bosses Alexey Yeryomenko and Omari Tetradze went to signing a peace treaty. So the 'winning isn't everything' motto prevailed.
4. Skorykh's villain for Shakhter
In his last four games for the Miners, veteran midfielder Sergey Skorykh found nothing better to do than to score three own goals. For sure, unbelievable and unprecedented statistics turned him into the biggest antihero in the league so far.
First, he struck a last-gasp winner against his side in a 2-1 loss to Astana (rescheduled Week 14 match), then helped Atyrau to a 83rd-minute lead which has fortunately been cancelled out in stoppage time by youngster Oralkhan Omirtayev (a thrilling 3-3 draw in Week 6) before heading home for Tobol seconds from half-time en route to Shakhter's most recent 1-1 stalemate.
"The ball flew down the wind and Sergey failed a bit with his leap on it. It was an accident," Alexey Yeryomenko, Karaganda club's manager, explained the fatal error committed by Skorykh. Anyhow, the former Kazakhstan international should reverse his curse as soon as possible since those accidents cost his side points.
5. Disastrous pitches hit the game
KPL keeps embarrassing the fans, players, coaches, journalists and outside observers with its inability to address the stadiums issue. Last time out, Akzhayik welcomed Taraz at their reserve ground, Shakhter played Tobol at their reserve ground, too, Okzhetpes 'hosted' Astana in Astana, while Aktobe hadn't been allowed to hold their home game against Atyrau at all due to unprepared pitches at their both stadiums.
Kaisar hosted Irtysh at their regular Gani Muratbayev Stadium yet with an ugly effect, provoking a strong disapproval from the visiting boss Dimitar Dimitrov who rued the quality of the pitch, which was merely disastrous. "If we want to develop Kazakhstan football, we shouldn't play on pitches like this," he stressed at the post-match press conference.
Only Kairat have been able to provide football-friendly conditions for their home meeting with Ordabasy, and the cheerful 15,000 crowd – which is season's record – has confirmed just that. But it is a prove-the-rule exception as there are few clubs in Kazakshtan that can avoid repetitive venue struggles in the spring period. It's time for you to step up, PFLK.