Hulk's brace ensured Andre Villas-Boas' Zenit reign got under way with a win as they beat Krylya Sovetov 2-1 on Monday.
The Portuguese took over as Zenit head coach last Thursday, and saw his charges keep their title hopes alive as Hulk scored early in both halves at the Stadion Petrovskij.
Villas-Boas was forced to endure some uncomfortable moments, though, as Ibragim Tsallagov pulled a goal back on 54 minutes before Luis Caballero failed to convert two penalties as the visitors let Zenit off the hook.
The narrow win keeps Zenit within three points of leaders Lokomotiv Moscow after the pacesetters proved too strong for strugglers Ural on Saturday.
Aleksandr Belozerov's own goal and a Dame N'Doye effort had the hosts two goals to the good after just 14 minutes, before Sergey Tkachev added a third 13 minutes from time, with Belozerov's miserable day completed thanks to a second yellow card late on.
Zenit are now firm favourites for a return to the Champions League at least, however, after both Spartak and Dinamo Moscow failed to pick up maximum points.
Ari's hat-trick, along with a goal from Wanderson, saw Spartak comprehensively beaten by Krasnodar on Saturday, while Dinamo were held to a goalless draw by Rubin Kazan 24 hours later.
With Zenit second on 44 points, Moscow neighbours Spartak, Dinamo and CSKA all sit level on 40 in the UEFA Europa League spots after the latter comfortably brushed aside bottom-placed Anzhi Makhachkala.
Seydou Doumbia struck a brace in their 3-0 win at the Anzhi-Arena on Monday while, elsewhere at the wrong end of the table, Tom Tomsk' and Terek Grozny have renewed hope of beating the drop following potentially crucial victories.
Tomsk' left it late to secure a 1-0 win over Volga - Jan Holenda scoring in the 90th minute to condemn Volga to a fifth straight league defeat and 10th game without a win.
Vasiliy Baskakov's charges now sit 12th and, while Terek Grozny remain in the relegation play-off spots, their third win in four games gives them a fighting chance of staying in the top tier.
Ailton Almeida and Marcin Komorowski got the crucial goals in a 2-1 win over Kuban Krasnodar while Amkar Perm were held at Rostov on Friday, despite leading 3-1 with two minutes of normal time remaining.
Having seen Amkar's Jakub Wawrzyniak sent off, the hosts utilised their numerical advantage as Artem Dzyuba and Vitaliy Djakov scored at the death to snatch a point and derail the visitors' Europa League push.
|Ancelotti trusts me more than Guardiola - Ribery|
|Wijnaldum rejected Everton for Klopp|
|Pre-season Manchester derby cancelled|
|Coutinho excited by ´fast´ Liverpool recruits|
|Cristiano Ronaldo and Conor McGregor step into the ring together|
|Mancini coy on reports linking Icardi to Napoli|
|Nolito reveals why he chose Man City over Barcelona|
|Inter 1 Paris Saint-Germain 3: Icardi absence in defeat fuels Napoli talk|
|MLS Review: Wright-Phillips double inspires Red Bulls to New York derby rout|
|James seeks more game time at Madrid|
|Rooney: I want to be a manager|
|Mignolet welcomes Karius challenge in Liverpool number one battle|
|Batshuayi buoyed by winning vibes at Chelsea|
|Moyes and Sunderland players diverted after plane fault|
|´Loved´ Varane targets long Madrid stay|
|Kostic set for Hamburg medical|
|Leicester crying over Kante sale - Ranieri|
|Schurrle the perfect Mkhitaryan replacement - Tuchel|
|West Ham face anxious wait on Cresswell injury|
|Mourinho will accept criticism from United legends|
|Bertolacci desperate for fresh start after underwhelming first season at Milan|
|Hoops hand Toure one-year deal|
|Origi ready to fight for Liverpool spot|
|Emery wants PSG stay for ´fantastic´ Matuidi|
|No Barcelona offer for Vietto - Cerezo|
|Burnley apologise for racist abuse from supporter|
|Guardiola will not rush Kompany comeback|
|Of course I´ll shake Guardiola´s hand, snaps riled Mourinho|
|Watzke: No more signings for Dortmund|
|Roma expect Manolas to snub Premier League move|
|Adriano set to leave Barcelona for Besiktas|
|Manchester United in worst possible situation - Mourinho|
|Sporting would have to sell stadium to afford Van Persie - Jesus|
|Jonas´ agent confirms Barcelona approach|
|No problem with Mourinho, insists Guardiola ahead of derby in China|
|Toronto´s hat-trick hero Giovinco: I´m back|
|Drogba revels in ´special night´, dedicates hat-trick to family|
|MLS Review: Hat-tricks for Drogba and Giovinco as stars shine|
|Whelan backs Liverpool for top-four finish|
|Pellegrini still waiting for right offer|
|Ronaldo deserves to win Ballon d´Or - Vazquez|
|Phelan wants Hull job|
|Alaba saddened by Gotze exit|
|Morgan: Vardy right to re-sign|
|Maradona ´hurting´ as Higuain closes on Juventus move|
|Moyes watches Sunderland win, Ibe opens account in six-goal Bournemouth thriller|
|Messi cuts short holiday for Barcelona training camp|
|Ranieri still confident of keeping Mahrez|
|Toure to complete Celtic move on Sunday, says Rodgers|
|Vietto sends Simeone a reminder amid Barcelona links|
|Celtic 1 Leicester City 1 (5-6 on penalties): Mahrez magic the highlight as Ranieri´s side triumph i|
|Ribery, Alaba on target in Bayern win|
|Neymar hails Micale ahead of Olympic tilt|
|Ronaldo wants Real Madrid renewal|
|Ochoa joins Granada from Malaga|
|Heidel quashes Meyer to Liverpool as ´nonsense´|
|Scholes challenges Allardyce to change England mentality|
|Tenerife star Crosas investigated for killing endangered shark|
|De Gea: Manchester United can win title under Mourinho|
|Marseille replace Batshuayi with brother Leya Iseka|
|Cristiano Ronaldo: Best season of my career|
|Scholes: Pogba is not worth £100million|
|Gotze has not forgotten how to play football - Riedle|
|Delph learning more than ever under Guardiola|
|Jovetic ´not worried´ about Juventus|
|Allardyce wants Euro 2016 woes to fire his England|
|Giggs not in a rush to take manager´s job|
|Lopetegui: If not for Spain I would be Wolves boss|
|Shaw one of best left-backs in world - Herrera|
|Injured Sanchez to miss Arsenal tour|
|Melbourne Victory 1 Juventus 1 (Melbourne win 4-3 on pens): Thomas inspires Victory as Juve pay pena|
|Janssen: Ajax and PSV were never going to pay as much as Tottenham|
|Bayern to make Munich shooting tributes|
|Wenger wishes luck to old foe Allardyce|
|United defender Varela joins Frankfurt on loan|
|Sunderland appoint Moyes as Allardyce replacement|
|Javi Martinez devastated by Munich shootings|
|Rooney: I´m desperate to play for Mourinho, just like under Ferguson|
|Godin: Champions League the dream, but LaLiga the focus|
|Klopp hails Wijnaldum´s ´football smartness´|
|Klavan ready to fight for starting spot after completing ´dream´ Liverpool move|
|Real Salt Lake 1 San Jose Earthquakes 1: Mulholland salvages point|
|Madeira airport to be named after Cristiano Ronaldo|
|Villar, Ceferin and Van Praag announce UEFA presidential bid|
|Witsel has offers from England and Italy|
|Tuchel will bring out Gotze´s best - Watzke|
|Swansea confirm interest in Liverpool´s Allen|
|Arsenal´s Coquelin: LeBron v Curry is like Messi v Ronaldo|
|Rooney backs Allardyce appointment|
|Bayern and Ancelotti respond to Munich attacks|
|West Brom friendly cancelled over violence concerns|