By Denis Orlov
With five games remaining, three sides are in contention for the Belarussian Premier League title.
FC Dinamo Minsk top the table, with FC BATE Borisov two points adrift in second place and FC Shakhtyor Soligorsk a further three behind in third. However, the latter cannot be ruled out having won nine of their last ten games, the only slip being a 0-0 draw at FC Dinamo Brest on 17 September.
Shakhtyor's run includes a 1-0 victory at BATE on 21 September, courtesy of a goal from Latvian midfielder Igors Slesarcuks. Crucially, Dinamo must visit Soligorsk, where the home team are unbeaten in 59 matches, on 25 October.
Another worry for the leaders is their inconsistency. After Dinamo's 2-0 success at FC Neman Grodno, unimpressive home wins against FC Gomel (1-0) and FC Transmash Mogilev (2-1) have sandwiched a disappointing 0-0 draw at relegation-threatened neighbours FC MTZ-RIPO Minsk.
"My players underestimated the opposition," Dinamo coach Leonid Ostroushko said of the latter result. "We were thinking that sooner or later they would let us in on goal. But MTZ-RIPO were really motivated and played very solid football."
BATE have had similar problems. It took a 70th-minute Aleh Strakhanovich penalty to earn a 1-0 win at lowly FC Lokomotiv Vitebsk on 3 October, but Yuri Puntus's side had dropped points in their previous outing when they were held to a 1-1 draw at Brest.
Meanwhile, Gomel's chances of reclaiming the title ended last week, their 1-0 defeat at FC Naftan Novopolotsk ensuring the championship trophy would change hands yet again. No Belarussian club has managed to win consecutive titles since 1995 and Dinamo's 'five-in-a-row'.
While Gomel are feeling deflated, FC Belshina Bobruisk's bubble burst long ago. Belshina have collected just seven points all season and will be relegated - to be replaced by second-division champions FC Lokomotiv Minsk.
The remaining relegation place has yet to be filled, with six clubs seeking survival. MTZ-RIPO are currently second-from-bottom but are showing good form under coach Aleksandr Piskarev. FC Zvezda-VA-BGU Minsk now look at risk after losing 3-1 to fellow strugglers FC Darida Zhdanovichi.
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