Two-horse race as Kazakhstan Premier League contention for top spot dramatically reduces.
Astana did it again
2014 champions Astana retained their crown after winning the title race in 2015 Kazakhstan Premier League. Stanimir Stoilov led his side to successful defending of their title as the capital city club finished with tiny cushion in the standings. Bulgarian manager was the key man behind this glory, his second at his less than two-year spell at Astana. Therefore, each Astana’s league triumphs were grabbed with Stoilov on the bench, while the likes of Foxi Kéthévoama, Roger Cañas, Dmitry Shomko, Tanat Nuserbayev, Baurzhan Jolchiyev proved their worth as instrumental players.
It was Kairat Almaty who challenged Astana, boosting a new big rivalry, so-called Two capitals Derby, but they failed to beat their opposition in both 2014 and 2015 campaign. In both cases, Kairat, enjoying a valuable progress under Slovak coach Vladimír Weiss, leapfrogged Astana in the table midway through the season only to see their advantage slip at the end of the race.
In spite of smart reinforcements and landing top signings such as former FC Bayern München anchorman Anatoliy Tymoshchuk and prolific scorer Djordje Despotović, Kairat missed an opportunity to bring gold medals back to Almaty. In 2014, Kairat claimed a top three spot, finishing behind FC Astana and FC Aktobe. The club were far more convincing in the next campaign yet finished only runners-up, just one point shy of the champions.
Such an outcome was a mere frustration for an ambitious project backed up by mighty KazRosGaz company, which had the honor to be the first Kazakhstan club to establish the Youth Academy and open a superb training ground. However, South capital side had a consolation in domestic cup success, winning the knockout competition two times in a row. Kairat defeated Aktobe in the 2014 Kazakhstan Cup final (4-1) and prevailed over Astana (2-1) to get some avenge and remain trophy holders a year later. Furthermore, Kairat’s Ivorian attacker Gerard Gohou became league’s top scorer with a 23-goal tally, sparking an interest from several Russian and European clubs.
Weiss, although, decided to part ways with Kairat after the end of the season. During his three-year tenure, Weiss managed to change things in the club which had no measurable success for years, with the Slovak achieving a lot of improvements to lift it from mid-table limbo to advanced title contender position. Undoubtedly, he deserved his place in the club’s Hall of Fame as one of the best managers in its history.
European football chasing pack and beyond
Astana are to play in the 2016/17 UEFA Champions League, while Kairat will start in the Europa League with remaining European berths snatched by FC Aktobe and Ordabasy Shymkent who outpowered their rivals FC Atyrau and Irtysh Pavlodar to extend their own presence in the UEFA competitions.
At the start of the season, five-time Kazakhstan champions Aktobe considered as title contenders but couldn’t build on high level maintained in recent campaigns as they lacked stamina and quality. Despite poor performances, Aktobe managed to finish second and reach the Cup final in 2014 and grab bronze medals last term.
Another potential leaders Shakhter Karagandy who won the league in 2011 and 2012 suffered a heavy setback as the Miners flirted with relegation and beat the drop just in the dying stages of the season. The main reason this dramatic reducing of consistency have occurred is the financial turmoil in Karaganda club, with another teams being affected by more or less identical problems amid the overall economic decline.
The bottom six of the league (Relegation round) were topped by Tobol Kostanay, 2010 champions battled for seventh spot against promoted side Okzhetpes Kokshetau who, being guided by Vladimir Mukhanov, proved to be competitive enough to secure top-flight football for the next season. The cellar dwellers Kaisar Kyzylorda were too poor to avoid relegation while Zhetysu Taldykorgan qualified to Relegation playoffs.