FC Metalist Kharkiv may have missed out on their chance to claim top spot in the Ukrainian Premier League on Sunday – when they were defeated 2-1 by FC Dynamo Kyiv – but Myron Markevich's side appear to be emerging from the shadows of Dynamo and FC Shakhtar Donetsk as the long-awaited third contender for the title.
If once there was an evident divide between the big two and the rest, recent results suggest the duopoly has become a thing of the past. At the end of October Metalist triumphed 3-2 at Shakhtar in the league, while Shakhtar prevailed away from home against league leaders Dynamo in the last 16 of the Ukrainian Cup. Dynamo then finished the circle of tit-for-tat by defeating Metalist. Clearly there is little to choose between the top three.
Metalist's rise can be attributed to numerous factors, not least the influx of South American signings. In their bid to claim major honours, the Kharkiv outfit have certainly brought in some quality imports, with Argentinian duo José Ernesto Sosa and Jonathan Cristaldo, Brazilian forward Taison and Ukrainian international striker Marko Dević among their number.
"Our potential has grown a lot with the arrival of these players," said Markevich. "We can now take on the big clubs, and not just those in Ukraine. You will soon see the benefits of our decision to bring in Brazilians and Argentinians.
We have a great atmosphere in the team and I feel good working with my players. Most of them are young, they want to prove themselves and we aim to help them."
In Markevich the Zhovto-Syni boast a coach with unparalleled experience. The 60-year-old, who took brief charge of the Ukraine national team last year, has overseen a record 510 Ukrainian matches as a top-flight coach. Metalist only returned to the Ukrainian Premier League eight seasons ago, but established themselves as potential challengers since Markevich's arrival in summer 2005, finishing third in each of the last five seasons.
The Yellow-Blues have already become known in Europe over recent seasons thanks to regular UEFA Cup and UEFA Europa League appearances, the best of which was a run to the round of 16 in 2009. That campaign ended at the hands of Dynamo, and at home they have also remained in the shadows of the capital side and last season's UEFA Champions League quarter-finalists Shakhtar.
After qualifying from the UEFA Europa League group stage last term, Metalist are again going strong in the competition, where they lead Group G by four points from AZ Alkmaar after four matches. But such is the measure of their upward trajectory that victories against FK Austria Wien and Malmö FF have come to be expected. Even defeat by FC Karpaty Lviv in the Ukrainian Cup was attributed to the resting of key players for a sustained assault on more coveted trophies.
The October success against Shakhtar was the first of Markevich's reign and represents a significant statement of intent. "We have shown the whole of Ukraine who we really are," said goalkeeper Vladimir Dišljenković. "And we fully intend to keep doing so." Five points behind league pacesetters Dynamo, Metalist are still very much in title contention, but now Markevich is conscious of keeping his charges grounded.
"I ask my players not to look at the table because there are so many games to go before the end. We need to take it step by step and only think about the next match." Metalist hope to send out another strong message when they host UEFA Europa League rivals Austria Wien on 30 November.
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