Season Preview: FC Tosno

Petrovsky Stadium in St. Petersburg, Tosno's new home. Photo: FC Zenit

Petrovsky Stadium in St. Petersburg, Tosno’s new home. Photo: FC Zenit St. Petersburg

FC Tosno has been promoted to the Premier League for the first time in their short history. Founded in 2013 by Leonid Khomenko – current technical director at the club – and FortGroup, a commercial real-estate group based out of St. Petersburg, just an hour’s drive north-west of Tosno. This close locality to Russia’s second city will be key for Tosno next season, as the club will be based at Zenit-2’s Petrovsky Stadium for their maiden RFPL campaign.

Head coach Dmytro Parfyonov has overseen quite a drastic overhaul at the club this summer, with thirteen incomings and twelve outgoings since the end of the 2016/17 season including numerous transfer coups such as David Yurchenko from Anzhi Makhachkala and the particularly impressive twin loan signings of Georgi Melkadze and Denis Kutin from Spartak Moscow. Well-known but controversial and problematic figure Artem Milevskyi is among those who will not be playing at the Petrovsky Stadium next year after mutually agreeing to end his contract.

Head coach

Dmytro Parfyonov is the first head coach to lead Tosno to the Russian elite and is their longest serving coach having been in his post since August 2015. Even without their promotion, Parfyonov would probably be still held in such high esteem, with the next longest serving Viktor Demidov, Tosno’s’ first head coach, lasted merely seven months in the job. The eight appointments between them – including now Anzhi head coach Aleksandr Grigoryan – combined were in their jobs for less time than Parfyonov alone.

The ex-Spartak Moscow left-back was previously manager of FC Tekstilshchik Ivanovo and was given full control of all aspects of a club rebuild after losing to Kurban Berdyev’s Rostov side in the 2014/15 promotion playoff’s. Since then, financial stability has been promised by general director Vyacheslav Matyushenko and his St. Petersburg-based backers. Parfyonov is quite a flexible manager, having utilised five different formations throughout the course of last year, adapting to suit their opponents, but he did field an offensive 4-4-2 for 16 games of last season’s 38-game schedule in the FNL.

Greatest strength

Tosno had both the second-best attack and defence in the FNL last season, behind Dinamo Moscow who strolled to the championship victory. Despite this stability, their greatest strength may just be Parfyonov’s flexibility on the pitch. Tosno was only one of two teams to defeat Dinamo Moscow last year in the league – with Fakel Voronezh the other, who achieved an incredible double over the league winners.

They also defeated Dinamo and Arsenal Tula in the Cup last year and then lost out narrowly to eventual winners Lokomotiv Moscow in the quarter-final. In all three matches Parfyonov lined his team up in a different formations and with different game plans; against Arsenal an offensive 4-3-3 with attacking midfielders Rustem Mukhametshin and Maksim Palienko ahead of captain Mladen Kašćelan in central midfield. In the Dinamo game, he employed a 3-5-2 formation to counteract his opponents four-at-the-back and nullify Kirill Panchenko with Mukhametshin up front alongside Aleksandr Kutjin. Finally, in the final game of the run against Lokomotiv, he switched to a much more defensive 4-2-3-1 with Kašćelan joined by fellow defensive midfielder Grigori Chirkin as Mukhametshin lined-up behind top scorer Anton Zabolotnyi with the young, pacey wingers Aleksandr Makarov and Ilnur Alshin flanking him, aiming for a more direct, counter-attacking style. Parfyonov has shifted his pack like this throughout the whole of his tenure at the club as his managerial stock rises season after season.

Although Tosno lost out, in the end, their unpredictability and ability to adapt to differing situations will suit both the players and managers well in a division of many wholly differing teams in terms of both style and formation.

Greatest weakness

Though performing well last season Tosno finished bottom of the FNL fair play table last season with seven players receiving at least five yellow cards including Rade Dugalic and Kašćelan who picked up ten and eighteen respectively. The Montenegrin captain may be at risk of being sent off and suspended often next season under the less lenient RFPL referees, last season he picked up a yellow or red card once every 1.78 games for Tosno. This is due to the combative style employed by Parfyonov as every player is expected to cover a lot of ground working for the team, with a low average age of 26.12 last season will likely not change their approach. This lack of discipline coupled with their unimpressive home form (for a promoted team) will have to be addressed in order to survive in the RFPL.

Key player

Last year, was very much a team effort for Tosno, but their start player was Anton Zabolotnyi, who scored an impressive sixteen goals in 30 starts, eclipsed by only Kirill Panchenko and Khasan Mamtov who both join him in the RFPL this season. Zabolotnyi has been an FNL regular for Tosno, Fakel Voronezh and Ufa, since leaving CSKA Moscow in 2013. At the Army Men, he also scored regularly out on loan at various FNL teams and has scored an impressive 39 goals and registered ten assists in just 104 starts, including twenty goals and six assists at Tosno in 44 games over the past two seasons. Alike to his club, the 26-year-old has never played in the RFPL before and will be keen to impress.

Young startlet

Who else but Georgi Melkadze? The enigmatic attacking midfielder has been playing for Spartak-2 in the FNL for numerous years now, flitting between the senior and feed team but should now be given his first chance of first-team football in the Premier League.

As one of the highest prospects at Tarasovka, the pressure is on Melkadze to develop into the player he should, but whether employed centrally (his preferred position) or on the wing, the 20-year-old of Georgian descent will no doubt terrify defenders of the less established Premier League teams now. He is an explosive attacking midfielder in the mould of Roberto Firmino who is more than capable of playing in the ‘false nine’ role due to his creative talents, pace, dribbling ability and a wicked shot. Parfyonov could be a perfect mentor as his current main weaknesses are his mentality, lack of defensive contribution and work ethic, something the Ukrainian will demand this season. If, and it’s a big if, Melkadze follows Parfyonov’s instructions, expect him to set the league alight for Tosno. However, he will likely still remain at Spartak long-term if this is the case

Season predictions

Playing away from Tosno will be no problem for the club, who were based in the Electron Stadium in Veliky Novgorod for last season’s FNL, but their away form was superior earning 2.05 points per game as opposed to 1.89 at “home”. In the FNL this was not such a problem, but their lack of a home fortress may be the difference between survival and relegation when the big RFPL teams come to the Petrovsky this season.

Tosno’s aim this season is survival, and they are much better prepared than their promotion comrades SKA Khabarovsk and have had a better off-season than FK Rostov. I’ll expect them to be in the relegation race for much of the season but if Zabolotnyi, Melkadze and company hit the ground running early, they may be able to compete both on and off the pitch to survive through the relegation playoffs or perhaps more.

Author: James Nickels

Born and raised in South Shields, the direct mid-point between Sunderland and Newcastle in North-East England during an era of sustained success and European football for the Magpies, while the Black Cats floundered in the lower divisions, so naturally I decided to support Sunderland. I’ve developed an interest in Russian football over the last decade or so, but it piqued while studying for my Masters’ Degree in Russian and Soviet History, and I’ve been hooked by Spartak Moscow ever since. Considers Eduard Streltsov the best of his generation, and a fond proponent of his repatriation.

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