Spirited Southampton fightback holds Chelsea to draw
Southampton recover from 2-0 down to draw 2-2 at Stamford Bridge
A spirited Southampton fightback secured a 2-2 draw for the Saints after Chelsea let a two-goal lead slip on a chilly night at Stamford Bridge.
Chelsea welcomed Southampton to west London looking to avoid a third home defeat on the bounce, and for 45 minutes they looked good value for a sixth Premier League win from seven matches.
Away from home they've been excellent, but in front of the Chelsea faithful, they've been torrid - defeats to Swansea and Queens Park Rangers the latest examples of lethargic home performances.
So it was no surprise to see Rafa Benitez opt to retain Demba Ba in attack, the Senegalese striker preferred to Fernando Torres again, and for large parts of the first half, Ba was the best player on the pitch.
He worked hard, harried the Southampton defence, provided neat layoffs, and was rewarded with the opening goal 20 minutes in.
A cross from the right by Cesar Azpilicueta popped up into the air after Jos Hooiveld and Oscar collided, and Ba neatly swept it home on the volley from 10 yards.
Up to that point neither team had really threatened. The match had quickly settled into a familiar pattern – and one you expect Saints manager Nigel Adkins had planned for.
The home team dominated possession, and Saints looked to counter off the tireless running of lone forward Jay Rodriguez.
To be fair to the south-coast side they played it around nicely when given the opportunity, but failed to carve out a real clear-cut chance in the first 45 minutes.
Instead, Chelsea punished them again just before half-time – a 3 minute burst of chances prior to the intervel was rewarded when Hazard neatly controlled a volley home from 12 yards. Ramires had struck the bar moments before, and Lampard had wasted a good opening when well-placed to hit the target.
Cruel on Southampton, but they quickly pulled a goal back 12 minutes into the second half. The introduction of the club's top scorer Rickie Lambert brought immediate reward, as Nathianel Clyne’s persistance down the right saw the England under-21 international dig out a cross.
And Lambert did the rest – stooping to head in from 8 yards to make it 2-1 with half an hour to play.
But it was to get worse for the European champions 17 minutes later. Luke Shaw, one of the Premier League’s brightest talents, burst past Azpilicueta to cross for Puncheon, who took one touch before volleying home in stunning style.
It was a brilliant goal, but it left the Blues the best part of 15 minutes to find a winner. Chelsea struggled without Victor Moses - the Nigerian was brilliant against Southampton in their 5-1 FA Cup demolition - and Hazard, Oscar and Mata, the Three Amigos, yet again failed to click as you would expect.
Hazard was excellent, Mata was good, but Oscar, thrust out onto the wing, was quiet. Chelsea needed an out-and-out winger, but Benitez had no clear option on the bench.
Still, Chelsea pressed and pressed, but couldn’t find a way past Southampton’s stubborn defence.
Fernando Torres replaced Lampard with 10 minutes to play, and the Spaniard was mercilessly booed throughout a miserable cameo. He squandered a glorious chance, before a wayward cross in the dying seconds put paid to Chelsea’s hopes of stealing all three points.
The point could be crucial for Southampton, who are battling away towards the bottom of the Premier League table. For Rafa Benitez, it was another tough 90 minutes at the Bridge.