FC Spartak Moskva remain on course for the UEFA Cup knockout rounds after withstanding late pressure to secure a valuable point away to AC Sparta Praha.
Following a cagey first 45 minutes, the Czech team increasingly took charge as the second half wore on, mindful perhaps that, having lost their opening Group E home game against FC Zürich, they needed more than a point. Just after the hour Miroslav Slepička brought a stunning save from Stipe Pletikosa in the Spartak goal, and that set the tone for the rest of the match as Sparta drove forward only to be rebuffed by a blanket defence.
On a freezing night in Prague, Pletikosa was kept busy throughout, warming his hands as early as the fourth minute when he comfortably caught Karol Kisel's speculative effort. Soon after he was grateful for a lack of accuracy as Libor Došek headed over when well-placed but the game was by no means all Sparta. The Russian visitors had already gone close through Welliton from long range and no sooner had Došek miscued than Artem Dzyuba did the same at the other end following Dmitri Torbinskiy's corner.
Spartak's threat was fleeting, however, and Pletikosa was soon back in the thick of it, doing well to parry Jan Rezek's right-footed shot. The sight of the Croatian goalkeeper diving was to become a familiar one. His stop to deny Slepička from point-blank range on 63 minutes stood out but he was also needed to keep out attempts from Kisel, Michal Kadlec and the lively Slepička, while Spartak's Martin Stranzl and Ignas Dedura both made timely blocks. Spartak held on and move to four points, level with their opponents but having played a match less. A victory at home to Zürich next week will seal their progress.