Oscar shows Chelsea the way
Chelsea required super sub Oscar to settle a tepid 1-0 affair against a gutsy Sparta Prague side in the Europa League last-32 first leg at the Generali Arena.
The Brazilian scored 45 seconds after coming on to the field and with eight minutes of the match remaining after playing a neat one-two with Eden Hazard before calmly slotting his left-foot shot beyond goalkeeper Tomas Vaclik.
Rafa Benitez's men will look to put the tie to bed when the two sides meet again next Thursday at Stamford Bridge for a right to meet either Ajax or Steaua Bucharest in the next round.
After Frank Lampard's early shot from 25 yards was held at the second attempt by Sparta goalkeeper Tomas Vaclik, Hazard twice tried to engineer an opening for Fernando Torres, but on each occasion the World Cup winner did not contest good crosses into the six-yard box.
David Lafata - the Czech league's top scorer in each of the last two seasons, was making his debut after signing from Jablonec in January and was keen to impress, causing Chelsea a concern more than once.
Torres headed over a free-kick from Juan Mata in the second half, who then crossed for Lampard, who stooped low, but could only head straight at Vaclik.
Torres' evening was summed up when he shot right-footed from 20 yards, the ball slicing high and going out for a throw-in.
Mata made way after 82 minutes for Oscar, who had an immediate impact.
He injected pace into proceedings and received a return pass from Hazard before clinically netting into the bottom corner.
The result, following last Saturday's 4-1 Premier League defeat of Wigan, saw Chelsea claim back-to-back wins for the first time since December and keep a clean sheet for a second time in eight games.
And after inflicting Sparta's first home loss in Europe in 11 matches, Chelsea now play Brentford in FA Cup fourth round replay on Sunday before the return leg.