Jose Mourinho's future as Chelsea manager was handed a much-needed lifeline after Willian's spectacular free-kick helped edge his side past Dynamo Kiev and reignite their Champions League campaign at Stamford Bridge. The Portuguese boss looked on course to suffer another seismic blow to his career prospects after Aleksandar Dragovic had cancelled out his first half own goal with 12 minutes left but a late rally keeps Mourinho's head above water.
Dragovic turned in Willian's first half cross but following Asmir Begovic's glaring error from Andriy Yarmolenko's corner, the Austria international hammered into an empty net to put the Ukrainian side on course for an unlikely point. But Willian - formerly of Dynamo's rivals Shakhtar Donetsk - struck with an outstanding strike from 25 yards with seven minutes left, which flew beyond Olexandr Shovkovskiy and ended the club's four-match winless run stretching back to mid-October.
Though it was a far from perfect performance from a Chelsea side whose hopes of retaining their Premier League title are all but over, it gives Mourinho breathing space amid continued speculation over his future. Victory puts his side into the top two in Group G and on course for the last 16 with two games remaining, while Kiev's failure to win on English shores has been extended to 13 matches.
Champions League results had so often dictated the timing of the demise of every manager under Roman Abramovich's ownership, and the future of Mourinho promised to be assessed no differently as, amid the club's failures in the Premier League, the Blues looked to breathe new life into their European prospects after winning one of their opening three groups matches. Though Mourinho had refuted the grossly-overexagerated claims of a dressing room revolt led by Cesc Fabregas, who was recalled to make his 100th European appearance, his relationship with another player Eden Hazard would again come under the microscope after the Belgium international was dropped to the bench for the third time this season in one of four changes from the defeat to Liverpool
Former Tottenham Hotspur and West Ham United striker Sergei Rebrov's Dynamo represented the obstacle between Chelsea and continental salvation and though the Ukrainian champions had never won in 12 attempts in England, 14 clean sheets from 19 matches indicated they had the capacity to frustrate Mourinho's side. Andriy Yarmolenko - previously linked with a move to the Premier League - started but there was no place for Danilo Silva who was absent as his wife gives birth.
Amid an uncertain and subdued atmosphere around Stamford Bridge, it took the booing of Uefa's Champions League anthem to spark the home support into life and it led to a fast, if not impressive, start from the hosts. Ramires' deflected shot was caught well by Shovhovskiy before the experienced Ukraine stopper kept out Oscar's smart shot from Cesar Azpilicueta's cross.
The visitors' mean defensive record meant they were always likely to pile men behind the ball, with Artem Kravets left to lead the line but it did at least restrict the 2012 champions to few chances in the first half. Diego Costa lashed a volley high over the bar and it soon became clear only a moment of brilliance or a mistake would break the deadlock, and the latter came after 34 minutes.
Begovic's lacklustre clearance came fortuitously the way of Baba Rahman, whose racking cross-field pass found Willian and when the Brazilian crossed Dragovic could only head into his own net. It may have been less than the home side deserved but it was a welcome slice of fortune for Mourinho, who was almost delirious when Costa was denied a penalty in the twilight of the half after minimal contact with Dragovic in the area.
Kurt Zouma's last ditch tackle kept Dynamo from levelling just after the break before Yarmolenko's deflected agonisingly wide of Begovic's goal as the away side belatedly threatened. Substitute Junior Moraes produced the best effort of the spell of pressure, forcing Begovic into his first save of the evening from 20 yards.
The nerves among the home support, who had seen their team win once since mid-September, ratcheted up but they could been eased when Willian whipped a free-kick in from the right where Zouma could only poke wide with the goal at his mercy. Shovkovskiy then kept out Oscar's curling effort from the edge of the box as the home side sensed a second.
Anxiety flowed through the Chelsea back four however and after Begovic misjudged a John Terry head which went out for the corner, the Bosnian's attempts to make amends failed with dramatic consequences. Begovic completely missed Yarmolenko's corner and Dragovic control the ball at the back post and slammed home the equaliser. Hazard and Pedro were introduced and it wasn't long before Chelsea's lead was restored.
Dynamo were level for five minutes before a pinpoint Willian free-kick curled over the wall and high beyond Shovkovskiy. An emotionless Mourinho shrugged off a goal which does wonders for his future, but the effort was met with huge relief among the home support.