(UPDATES with details, quotes)
Alexander Kerzhakov's first-half penalty gave champions Zenit St. Petersburg a nervy 1-0 win over FC Kuban in the Russian Premier League on Saturday.
It was only a second victory in five matches for Luciano Spalletti's side, who rise from fourth to joint second on 24 points with CSKA Moscow. Kuban stay sixth with their fifth defeat of the season.
Kerzhakov scored on the stroke of half time, converting a penalty after Kuban's Spanish defender Angel Dealbert had handled in the box.
Zenit had the majority of possession in a disjointed encounter that was disrupted by continuous petty fouls.
Spalletti was clearly angered by what he saw as cynical tactics from Kuban to keep the score down.
"There were lots of fouls by Kuban, especailly around their penalty box, in zones where we had already created something, and we couldn't see out our attacks as we wanted because our opponents kept fouling us."
Zenit won their first four matches of the season but then went on a barren spell of one win in six games. Saturday's victory marked a turning point, Spalletti insisted.
"This wasn't easy. But Zenit are returning. Zenit are back to what they were."
Kuban coach Yuri Krasnozhan didn't appear to upset with the result.
"We did well for half an hour," he said. "We could have attacked better, and we never managed to finish off our attacks with any shots on goal."
A yellow card for protesting sees Hulk banned for Zenit's next match, an away trip to Alania Vladikavkaz.
The Brazilian star went on several trademark surges down the flanks but he could never find a teammate on the end of his crosses.
Axel Witsel came a whisker away from opening his account for Zenit when he rattled the crossbar with a shot from 25 yards on 81 minutes.
Zenit goalkeeper Vyacheslav Malafeev made several saves to preserve his team's lead, including a sharp last-minute stop from Kuban substitute Marcos Pizzelli.
CSKA can pull to within two points of league leaders Anzhi Makhachkala by beating Rubin Kazan on Sunday.
Anzhi went five points clear earlier Saturday when Juan Manuel Insaurralde's injury-time own goal gifted Guus Hiddink's side a 2-1 win over 10-man Spartak Moscow.
Later Saturday, FC Krasnodar host Alania Vladikavkaz.