Free Premier League football…in Siberia

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We’ve reached the tail-end of the season in the Premier League over in Russia, meaning terms like “relegation six-pointer” can officially be attached to fixtures like Tom Tomsk versus Amkar Perm down at the bottom this weekend on match day 26.

10) Saturn Moskovskaya Oblast 28
11) Tom Tomsk 27
12) Krylia Sovetov Samara 26
13) Anzhi Makhachkala 24
14) Alania Vladikavkaz 24
15) Amkar Perm 22
16) Sibir Novosibirsk 18

If Tom don’t pull their socks up, they could well be joining their Siberian chums Sibir Novosibirsk on a trip to the First Division.

They had started the season rather well, chalking up five victories and three draws in their opening 11 matches, and were on a three-game winning streak when the Premier League entered a two-month hiatus for the World Cup last summer.

Since then, Valeri Nepomniachi’s side have endured a wretched run of form.

In Tom’s 14 fixtures that followed the division’s restart they’ve picked up a paltry nine points. That’s relegation form, and it makes Amkar’s 1,000-odd mile trek over the Urals to see them a rather tasty one this weekend.

A win should ensure a sixth straight season of Premier League football for the Siberians.

It would establish an eight-point gap between them and Amkar with four games remaining, and only twice since 1998, when the league adopted its current format of two up, two down has a club with 30 gone down.

It’s a big one: thrown in all the superlatives you can think of, Sky Sports style. Tom need all the help they can get at their 15,000-capacity Trud Stadion, which is why they're offering fans free admission this Sunday in a bid to roar them on to a first win in seven games.

l“Everyone knows that the 12th player of Tommy is a major force, helping the team win, even against the leading clubs of Russia. And we believe that the fans of Tomsk, in spite of recent setbacks, will not to turn away from their team!” The club’s official website said.

“The whole Tom team hopes to play more successfully until the finish, but without the support of the fans it will be hard to do this.

At the proposal of the players, trainers, club management and the fans, we have decided to make entrance to the match against Amkar free. In these difficult days now is not the time to remember any resentment or bad matches. We all need to unite for the sake of Tommy and for the future of the Tomsk football.”

These have been tough times for Tom. Last year the financially-stricken club nearly ceased to exist, and were only saved after penning a sob story to Dmitri Medvedev and Vladimir Putin asking for their assistance, who subsequently found sponsors among local businesses to bail Tom out.

A full house will arguably help them against Amkar. If you listen to the visitor’s fans this week though, they’ll tell you they won’t just be up against a 12th man on Sunday, but also a 13th.

Amkar’s supporters yesterday penned an open letter to Russian Football Union and Premier League officials, claiming they are deliberately engineering their club’s relegation to the First Division.

Conspiracy or not, you can’t argue they have been on the wrong end of some “controversial” decisions of late.

In last week’s 2-1 defeat at home to Lokomotiv Moskva a very dubious penalty was awarded to the visitors with 11 minutes remaining that had Amkar up in arms.

The club’s Tajik manager Rashid Rakhimov said afterwards: “I only wish they gave those sort of decisions to us.”

And in the game that preceded that against Zenit St Petersburg, Amkar had two players sent off and another contentious penalty given to their opponents; chuck in Kevin Kurányi’s very late, and very offside winner for Dinamo Moskva in the match before THAT, and then you can perhaps see why they aren’t happy chappies in Perm.

Evidently the club don’t think it’s such a cockamamie idea, as they’ve posted the full letter on their official website thanking fans for their support. Either that, or they're just putting pressure on the referee.

It might help if they started scoring goals, though. Amkar have only managed 17 this season and their leading scorer, Georgi Peev, has a rather feeble three, which might go some way to explaining why they are down at the bottom.

You can’t argue that the Premier League, if given the choice, would probably prefer it if Amkar went down as opposed to the two Caucasus clubs above them, Alania Vladikavkaz and Anzhi Makhachkala, though.

Football is being used as a tool to bring stability to the region, and it perhaps wasn’t a coincidence that when a spare Premier League spot was up for grabs after FC Moskva’s bankruptcy this year that 15th placed Kuban Krasnodar weren’t spared the drop, and instead North Ossetian outfit Alania Vladikavkaz were plucked from the First Division to replace the Muscovites.

But this blog wouldn't go so far as saying this means the powers that be are on crusade to banish Amkar to Russia’s second tier.

Certainly more attention is paid to who the referee is in Russia than in England. Almost without fail a club will publish the official’s details on their official website. It might not all be doom and gloom for Amkar, though.

Alexander Kolobayev, the chap in charge on Sunday also officiated this fixture at the Trud Stadion last year and they won 2-1.