Hulk, Witsel fail to lift Zenit
New multi-million-euro signings Hulk and Axel Witsel failed to shine on their debut as Russian champions Zenit St Petersburg fell 2-0 at home for the first time to Terek Grozny on Friday.
Brazilian Hulk arrived from Porto and Belgian midfielder Witsel from fellow Portuguese side Benfica this month for a reported total of €100 million, and expectations were high as both came on as second half substitutes.
But it was another Brazilian Ailton Almeida and Russian striker Igor Lebedenko who starred on the St Petersburg pitch as their late goals put Terek top of the league after their first ever win at Zenit.
"We did a lot of homework for this match," Terek manager Stanislav Cherchesov said. "And after Zenit's star rookies appeared on the pitch we managed to change our approach. We scored and kept our net clean."
Terek are now top with 19 points from eight matches, three points ahead of Zenit. CSKA Moscow, who take on Alania Vladikavkaz on Sunday, sit third on 15 points.
Hulk, who reportedly cost Zenit 60m euros, had to wait until the second half to make his debut as manager Luciano Spalletti left him on the bench along with Witsel, who arrived for 40m euros.
Zenit were also without Portuguese midfielder Danny, who has recovered from his knee injury but was left on the sidelines after he suddenly felt pain in his leg just before kick off.
The hosts started in a lively style with Russian international forward Alexander Kerzhakov scoring after 24 minutes only to have his goal ruled offside.
Midfielder Roman Shirokov had another clear chance to put Zenit ahead just after the half-hour mark but his unopposed seven-yard header from Renat Yanbayev's left-handed cross went just inches off the left post.
After the break Hulk stepped onto the pitch as a substitute for midfielder Viktor Faizulin. He had a chance just after the hour mark but his powerful shot from a 30-metre freekick went off target.
Witsel also debuted as a substitute in the 69th minute.
Terek had a clear opportunity in the 75th minute but Zenit 'keeper Vyacheslav Malafeyev produced a remarkable save deflecting Oleg Ivanov's close-range header after a well-served corner.
But he was unable to keep his net clean with five minutes to go when Almeida received the ball and dribbled into the area to fire the ball home from close range.
Lebedenko added a second four minutes into injury time.