Until a magic moment sent Chelsea back to London with a improbable 1-0 aggregate lead on Europa League rivals Sparta Prague, the highlight of an otherwise tiresome match was the chanting from the 1,000 or so visiting supporters who gave manager Rafael Benitez a rather nasty greeting on Wednesday.
But that moment was pure magic.
With just eight minutes to go and only seconds after coming on as a second-half substitute, Oscar accepted Eden Hazard’s layoff, skipped past Ondrej Svejdik and slipped a delicate, left-footed finish just inside the near post.
And that was that.
Sparta, who enjoyed long periods of possession in the opening half, simply could not create meaningful openings, although David Lafata and Ladislav Krejci were bright at times. Chelsea, meanwhile, often looked un-fussed about their involvement in European club football’s second-tier competition.
Fernando Torres, in particular, had a nightmare of a match.
On at least two occasions the Spanish forward had the ball at his feet in good position, but each time he failed to hit the target with any menace, and on one occasion, scuffed his effort all the way to the right touchline.
Marko Marin was Chelsea’s best player until he was mystifyingly taken off in favour of Yossi Benayoun in minute 68, but thankfully for Chelsea fans, their manager’s second change had more inspiration about it.
At 81 minutes, Oscar replaced Mata, and as he trotted downfield, he found himself involved in the game’s most important bit of buildup, controlling Hazard’s pass and giving the visiting fans something to sing about.