Willian scored a brilliant late free-kick to give Chelsea a much-needed 2-1 victory over Dynamo Kiev in the Champions League, and earn under-fire Jose Mourinho some breathing space.
Aleksandar Dragovic had diverted the Brazilian’s cross into his own net late in the first half, but the Ukrainian side made it a nervous second period for the hosts, and they looked to have grabbed a shock point when the defender atoned for his own goal by netting a late equaliser.
But, with seven minutes remaining, Willian intervened in some style to give Chelsea a potentially crucial three points, much to the delight of the Stamford Bridge crowd.
The win will come as a huge relief to Mourinho, who had overseen only one win in Chelsea’s previous eight games in all competitions and was once again the subject of plenty of headlines in the build-up, amid speculation over his future and talk of dressing room unrest.
The fans, though, have rarely wavered in their support of the Portuguese and he was consistently cheered by the home supporters throughout Wednesday’s match.
Victory moves Chelsea up to second place in Group G, three points behind leaders Porto but two clear of Kiev going into the final two games.
Mourinho made three changes to his team in a bid to improve their recent fortunes, with Gary Cahill, Eden Hazard and John Obi Mikel dropping out as Cesc Fabregas, Nemanja Matic and Baba Rahman came in.
Ramires had an early effort saved, before Oscar also warmed the hands of Oleksandr Shovkovskiy with a decent attempt after running on to Cesar Azpilicueta’s cross.
Chelsea had most of the possession but struggled to create clear-cut opportunities prior to making a fortunate breakthrough in the 34th minute.
Rahman switched the play out to Willian on the right and the Brazilian’s powerful cross was headed into his own net by a diving Dragovic.
Diego Costa and Mourinho were irate on the stroke of half-time as the hosts were denied a penalty. The Spain international showed great strength to run between centre-backs Yevhen Khacheridi and Dragovic before going down in the penalty area under pressure from the Austrian, with referee Pavel Kralovec waving Costa to get up, as his manager protested on the touchline.
Having made little impact going forward in the first half, Kiev made a brighter start to the second.
Kurt Zouma made a brilliant last-ditch challenge to deny Artem Kravets as he prepared to shoot, while Andriy Yarmolenko saw an effort deflected wide.
Willian had a close-range header saved at the other end, before the visitors had a penalty shout of their own. Derlis Gonzalez had a shot blocked by Ramires six yards out, but the referee disagreed with their claims of handball.
Substitute Junior Moraes then pounced on a mistake from Matic to force Asmir Begovic into a diving save, but Chelsea were soon ruing not putting the result beyond doubt. Willian’s free-kick from the right landed at Zouma’s feet two yards out, but the defender somehow failed to find the target.
Mourinho’s men went close again when Oscar saw his left-footed shot impressively tipped away by Shovkovskiy after the attacker had been found by Fabregas’ pass.
Those missed chances almost proved costly for Chelsea, with Kiev netting a shock equaliser with 13 minutes left. Begovic and Matic failed to clear a corner and Dragovic smashed home a shot that deflected in off John Terry at the far post.
With another game apparently slipping away, Mourinho threw on Pedro and Hazard in an attempt to force victory, and his side found a priceless winner with seven minutes remaining.
Belgium international Hazard won a free-kick 25 yards from goal and Willian did the rest, sending an excellent set-piece into the top corner to become the hosts’ top scorer this season with five, and give Mourinho a huge lift.