By Zoran Milozavljevic
BELGRADE, Nov 2 (Reuters) - Red Star Belgrade closed in on Serbian champions and league leaders Partizan on Saturday after winning a tense city derby marred by crowd trouble with fire trucks moving in to quell a bonfire in the visiting section.
Early in the second half, Partizan fans hurled volleys of flares on to the athletics track and as the seats in their tier had been removed before the match for safety reasons, they used whatever flammable plastic objects they could get to start a huge fire on the durable concrete blocks.
Referee Milorad Mazic halted play for 10 minutes as the billowing smoke threatened to choke the 40,000 spectators at Red Star's Marakana stadium and two fire trucks were quickly deployed to restore some normality to the fixture, which has a long history of crowd trouble.
Red Star, whose fans also set off loud fireworks and lit dozens of flares before kickoff, dominated the match but only won thanks to a bizarre own goal by Partizan defender Milan Obradovic, whose miscued header beat his own keeper Vladimir Stojkovic in the 18th minute.
The result left Partizan in pole position on 21 points from 11 matches, one more point than Red Star and third-placed Vojvodina Novi Sad who missed the chance to go top after being held 2-2 at home by struggling Radnicki Kragujevac.
Both teams started the derby with cautious 4-2-3-1 formations and a breakthrough at either end looked unlikely, but it came from out of the blue as Obradovic's freak error threw the Red Star faithful into raptures.
Stojkovic parried a vicious Nenad Milijas free kick and a Partizan defender failed to clear the swerving rebound before 36-year-old right back Obradovic inadvertently headed it past his helpless keeper.
Red Star twice came close to doubling their lead in the first half when a dipping long-range shot by Milijas shaved the bar and Nigerian striker Abiola Dauda headed just wide of the far post from a superb cross by left back Nikola Mijailovic.
Stojkovic denied Red Star forward Filip Kasalica with an instinctive save in the 53rd minute and, as the tempo dropped after the delay, the home side held on comfortably in the closing stages.
"We were a bit fortunate to score but I think we held our own very well after the goal and could have had a couple more in what was a very tense match with plenty at stake," Red Star coach Slavisa Stojanovic told a news conference.
"It wasn't the best derby ever played and eye-catching moments were few and far between, but we really had to win and after taking the lead so early in the game we just couldn't take any risks."
Partizan coach Vuk Rasovic said: "We were disjointed and didn't play up to our potential, so we only have ourselves to blame for losing." (Editing by Rex Gowar)