FC Lokomotiv Moskva earned a narrow 2-1 victory against AS Monaco FC in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League first knockout-round encounter, but Fernando Morientes's headed goal at an icy Lokomotiv Stadium may yet prove crucial.
The Spanish striker, on loan from Real Madrid CF, nodded into the net after the Lokomotiv defence had failed to clear a Jérôme Rothen free-kick, giving the French side a vital away goal after Lokomotiv had established a 2-0 lead.
Hosts start brightly
After a lengthy spell without competitive football, Lokomotiv were keen to get into their stride quickly and looked comfortable in possession from the off, stroking the ball around midfield.
Though Monaco matched them for possession in the early stages, it was the home side who made the better chances. On four minutes, Georgian forward Mikheil Ashvetia failed to leap quite high enough to head captain Dmitry Loskov's nicely weighted through-ball over the stretched goalkeeper Flavio Roma. When the same player did manage to take control of the ball after Gaël Givet's defensive error in the 16th minute, he could only shoot wastefully over the crossbar from just ten metres.
Indeed, despite their bright opening, there were occasional glimpses of rustiness from Lokomotiv that bore the marks of a side between domestic campaigns. Ashvetia's finishing aside, lapses by the usually reliable Siarhei Gurenko and Dmitri Khokhlov brought flowing moves to abrupt ends as Monaco backed off.
Such concerns were washed away, though, when the home side opened the scoring in fine style just after the half-hour mark. Loskov's cross was swung in towards Khokhlov on the edge of the Monaco box. The striker chose to dummy, allowing Marat Izmailov to bewitch two defenders with the drop of his shoulder before firing high past a helpless Roma at his near post.
It was a goal of the highest quality, quite in contrast with the uncharacteristic lack of spark to the visitors' game. The towering Croatian striker Dado Pršo was the focus of the visitors' play, but neither his aggression nor the supply from a jaded Rothen could open up the home defence.
Nevertheless it was Lokomotiv and not Monaco who made changes to their attack at the break, replacing the misfiring Ashvetia with the Nigerian striker, James Obiorah, starting his second spell at the club.
And though Monaco showed more adventure in the early exchanges after half-time, it was Lokomotiv who extended their lead on the hour. Roma had turned a bouncing Evseev header behind, but following the ensuing corner Gurenko's 30-metre drive was first blocked by an unwitting Evseev and then steered low into the net by Vladimir Maminov.
Loskov almost made it three after 67 minutes, slicing wide after good work by Obiorah and Izmailov, but just two minutes later Morientes handed Monaco their lifeline.
Chance goes begging
Lokomotiv should have restored their two-goal lead when Obiorah and Winston Parks were left unmarked after a defensive mix-up with just a minute left. But, with just the goalkeeper to beat and his fellow substitute available to his right, Obiorah failed even to test the goalkeeper to leave the tie finely poised ahead of the return match in France.