Southampton kept their run of good form going with a battling point against league leaders Chelsea.
The Saints came into the game on the back of a 3-1 win over Crystal Palace on Boxing Day, with Ronald Koeman rotating his squad to keep his players fresh.
It paid dividends as Sadio Mane put the home side ahead after racing clear to beat Thibaut Courtois with a delicate lob before Eden Hazard equalised on the stroke of half time.
Cesc Fabregas was wrongly cautioned for simulation during a second half of concerted Chelsea pressure that also saw Saints midfielder Morgan Schneiderlin sent off for a second bookable offence, but the Southampton defence stood firm for a well earned point.
Ronald Koeman was forced to deploy Maya Yoshida at right back in the absence of Nathaniel Clyne, whilst Matt Targett replaced Ryan Bertrand who was unable to face his parent club.
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That gave a fresh boost to Chelsea who looked to Eden Hazard as often as possible in an attempt to cause the Japanese defender problems from the outset.
First half goals
The home side started well and used Graziano Pelle with Sadio Mane as a front two. With the Italian’s hold-up play allowing the Senegalese to run in behind, it was a combination that worked almost immediately.
Pelle held off his man to chest the ball down to Dusan Tadic, the creator-in-chief hit a first time ball on the volley towards Mane who beat the offside trap to race clear. His finish was a neat lob over Thibaut Courtois for his second goal in as many games.
As the half ticked on it looked as though the Saints would get to half time ahead, but a moment of magic from Hazard brought the visitors level.
Cesc Fabregas’ delicate through ball found Hazard down the left, the Belgian checked back onto his right foot before committing Maya Yoshida and then Toby Alderweireld before shifting the ball and curling an effort into the bottom right hand corner on the stroke of half time.
Concerted Chelsea pressure
The Premier League leaders came out strong in the second half, and Ronald Koeman’s side struggled at times to deal with the link play of Hazard, Fabregas and Diego Costa.
Fabregas went into the referee’s notebook for simulation, although replays showed that the former Barcelona man was caught by Matt Targett before going down and a penalty should have been awarded.
James Ward-Prowse sent a pass back towards Fraser Forster without noticing Costa who raced on to the ball only to slip at the vital moment allowing Jose Fonte to clear.
A late surge down the right from Hazard saw the ball cut back towards Didier Drogba but Florin Gardos got the slightest of touches to take the ball off the toe of the striker and away from danger.
Chelsea looked to hit the home side on the counter with minutes to go and when Morgan Schneiderlin cynically wiped out Fabregas, he was shown a second yellow card and will miss the New Year’s day game against Arsenal.
A well-earned point
The full-time whistle gave both sides a point with Koeman the happier of the managers as his side managed to cling on as the pressure mounted. With the two goals representing the only shot on target for each side, a draw was probably a fair result in the end.
After five straight losses in all competitions his side have bounced back to form and after back-to-back wins a point against the leaders is further proof that they can compete against the top four sides.
As they enter 2015 fourth in the table, a couple of solid additions in January could definitely see the Saints mount a top four challenge at the end of the season.
Southampton player ratings
Forster - 6
Yoshida - 7
Fonte - 7
Alderweireld - 7
Targett - 6
Wanyama - 8
Schneiderlin - 7
Davis - 7
Tadic - 6
Mane - 8
Pelle - 7
Ward-Prowse - 6
Long - 6
Gardos - 6
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