By Mihail Korolev
FHK Liepajas Metalurgs continue to enjoy a spectacular season, remaining unbeaten in all competitions having reached the semi-finals of the Latvian Cup and opened up a 12-point gap at the league's summit.
Metalurgs have now won five successive league matches, including a crucial 2-1 victory at home to one of their potential title rivals, FK Ventspils. But Benjaminas Zelkevicius's team were forced to dig deep after falling behind in the first half. Viktors Dobrecovs equalised just after the hour though before Kristaps Grebis's 89th-minute goal secured all three points.
That victory stunted Ventspils’ recent renaissance after winning three of their last four games and further underlined Metalurgs' pre-eminence. These are heady times in Liepajas. The side have just moved back into their Daugava home following recent refurbishments, a stadium that meets all UEFA requirements, particularly pertinent after a 6-0 aggregate victory against NSÍ Runavík saw them move into the UEFA Cup second qualifying round.
The 2-1 loss effectively ended Ventspils’ hopes of claiming their first title since 1969. They bounced back with a 2-1 victory over FK Jurmala but 13 points off the pace, Romans Grigorčuks's side will now set their sights on second. Skonto FC currently occupy that spot, a solitary point ahead of Ventspils but with a match in hand on them and Metalurgs.
This is a transitional season at Skonto. Chasing a world-record 15th-successive league title they have struggled to find their rhythm this term. Their form in the UEFA Champions League was even more abject, a 6-0 rout at the hands of F.Y.R. Macedonia's FK Rabotnicki ending their hopes and Jurijs Andrejevs's time in charge.
He has been replaced by Englishman Paul Ashworth, who has enjoyed a comfortable start to his reign with easy victories over lowly Jurmala and FK Olimps Riga. His real challenge will come on 21 August when Skonto travel to Metalurgs. Victory could close the gap to nine, six if they win their game-in-hand against FK Dinaburg.
But with ten matches remaining, Dinaburg have their own agenda as they and FK Riga battle for fourth and a UEFA Intertoto Cup place. Things look less positive for FK Venta though - the side lie four points adrift of Olimps at the foot of the table having failed to win in over three months.
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