Khimki v Krylya Sovetov, Monday 22nd February 2021, 2.30pm

The winter break is over and the football has resumed in Russia. It seemed a little premature to me with temperatures being as low as -24C recently. Apparently, it has been the coldest Moscow winter since Napoleon was up to his mischief. It’s certainly colder than last year which I was told was the warmest Moscow winter since the dinosaurs were wandering around Red Square in their shorts. Who knows? For what it’s worth, there’s been heavy snowfall and as it hasn’t got warm enough for it to melt all the authorities can do is pile it up around the corner from my flat.

I’d been busy at the weekend but a public holiday on the Monday tied in nicely with Khimki’s FA Cup last sixteen fixture with second division Krylya Sovetov. Khimki is up at about ten o’clock on the second Moscow ring road. I’m at near enough seven o’clock so it’s not a bad journey in a taxi.

I’d bought a ticket in advance for nine hundred rubles in the smallish stand down the side that faced the much larger main stand. It looked as if only one in ten seats or so were being sold which is a welcome Covid precaution in a city that often gives the impression that the pandemic is a thing of the past. I suppose that I could be a little less cautious for the game as I’d had my first Sputnik V jab although with the emergence of new strains and the effectiveness of the vaccines not yet certain I’m happy to try and keep my distance from other people for the time being.

There was snow around the stadium and with it being minus twelve when I got out of the taxi I was glad that I’d worn an extra pair of trousers under my jeans. Maybe I’m getting used to the cold as it didn’t seem that chilly. Certainly not as bad as at Highbury twenty-odd years ago in that New Year’s Day game that was cold enough for Robbo to decide not to ever pick himself ever again. Mind you I did have an extremely thick down jacket on, with a hat and a buff underneath the hood covering all but my eyes.

Once inside I loitered in the concourse with a coffee before making my way outside with five minutes to go to kick-off. There was a light dusting of snow on the pitch with the lines cleared. Over in the main stand I could see drifts that hadn’t yet been shifted to the stockpile outside my front door and there was sufficient ice on the floor for me to be wary whenever I stood up.

Khimki Arena was built in 2008 and has a capacity of just over eighteen thousand. I estimated that there were less than a thousand fans inside for this game which might have been due to ticket restrictions but more likely was as a consequence of most people preferring to stay indoors.

The home side were dressed up as AC Milan, suitably accessorized with hats, headbands, gloves and tights. The visitors were sporting light blue shirts, dark blue shorts and, when visible, pale blue flesh. In a nod to times past the ref had brought an orange ball with him.

The game was less than ten minutes old when we got the first talking point. A ball was played in for a Sovetov striker. Under pressure from a centre-half he lunged at it but failed to make contact and a goal kick was awarded. It took a while before that kick was taken though as the ref stood at half-way with his finger pressed against his earpiece with the scoreboards informing us that the Video Assistant Ref was doing the do.

The on-pitch ref was directed to take a look at the touchline-telly and he subsequently made the charades signal for a tv show and blew for a penalty which was converted to give the visitors the lead.

We had barely restarted when Khimki lost one of their defenders for a DOGSO foul. The red card looked harsh to me as the foul was barely in the attacking half of the field. However, unless the video ref had nipped out for a piss I trust that it will have been carefully reviewed. Sovetov had the better chances in the remainder of the first half but the ten men kept the deficit to a single goal at the break. I risked the ice underfoot to get a large cup of tea that was too hot to handle without gloves. Ideal really in the circumstances.

Sovetov doubled their lead on the hour with a well worked passing movement. Their fans behind the goal seemed pleased and someone a few seats away who was likely to be a Khimki fan rolled his eyes at me. A reciprocating eye roll response was the best I could manage with my eyes being the only part of me visible under all my clothing. I did my best to convey that I knew his pain.

With around fifteen minutes to go a second Khimki fella received his marching orders. It was the lad wearing the beanie and he saw a straight red for booting someone over on the far touchline. He stomped off down the tunnel slamming the door behind him. Luckily he didn’t get as far as the bath or his car before the ref was asked to reconsider and after looking at the telly called him back on to the pitch and swapped his red for a yellow. I’d hoped that beanie boy was already on a yellow, just to see his reaction at being called back (ideally wearing just a towel and his hat) only to be sent off again. He was free to carry on though and spent the rest of the game chirping away at the ref and no doubt reminding him of his mistake.

I dare say the ref will have given him a bit back when the visitors made it three as full-time approached and then added a fourth in stoppage time to rub it in and seal their quarter-final spot. Despite the cold it was good to see some live football, hopefully there will be further opportunities over the next few weeks.

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