Saturday 21 April 2018

Drop fears mount for Southampton

Southampton 2 Chelsea 3

Chelsea's Olivier Giroud celebrates scoring their third goal with Marcos Alonso, Cesar Azpilicueta and team mates. Photo: Ian Walton/Reuters
Chelsea's Olivier Giroud celebrates scoring their third goal with Marcos Alonso, Cesar Azpilicueta and team mates. Photo: Ian Walton/Reuters

Jeremy Wilson

It is not always just the result that is most crushing and ominous, but the manner and circumstances behind it. This was Mark Hughes's first home match as Southampton manager and for 69 minutes, his team were seemingly cruising at 2-0 ahead after delivering perhaps their best performance of the season.

Eight minutes later, a Chelsea team inspired by the introduction of Olivier Giroud were 3-2 up and on their way to victory. Giroud scored twice in what was an otherwise insipid Chelsea showing.

It was hard to leave St Mary's fearing anything but the worst for Southampton. They have won only once in the Premier League since November and the impact of that record on their fragile confidence was horribly evident as soon as Giroud made it 2-1.

It leaves Southampton adrift in 18th place and for all their sense of injustice at a first-half Marcos Alonso challenge that should have resulted in a straight red card, it is hard to see where sufficient points will come from.

Alonso will surely face a three-match retrospective ban for a dangerous, studs-up tackle on Shane Long that apparently went unnoticed by referee Mike Dean, but even if he does miss the FA Cup semi-final between these two clubs next Sunday, the consolation to Southampton will be limited.

"He should have gone," said Hughes. "Referees have to get them right. Maybe that is why they are not at the World Cup this year. Shane was really angry after the game. It's not about sour grapes or getting a fellow professional in trouble, but that needs to be addressed. It could have had more severe and drastic consequences."

Chelsea's Eden Hazard (left) and Southampton's Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg battle for the ball. Photo: Adam Davy/PA Wire
Chelsea's Eden Hazard (left) and Southampton's Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg battle for the ball. Photo: Adam Davy/PA Wire

Chelsea manager Antonio Conte claimed not to have seen Alonso's challenge - in front of the two dugouts - but was certainly honest in his assessment of his team's first-half display.

"We didn't show great desire, great will to fight, and I take responsibility," he said. "In the second half, we had the right fire in our eyes."

Chelsea had begun with their usual three-man defence, but there was not a place even in the squad for Antonio Rudiger, who had pointedly and very publicly questioned the team's tactical approach in dropping off after they scored last week against West Ham United and eventually drew 1-1.

Southampton also again began with three central defenders and with wingbacks Cedric and Ryan Bertrand breaking forward dangerously, took a deserved lead after 21 minutes.

Chelsea's Olivier Giroud in action with Southampton's Wesley Hoedt. Photo: Ian Walton/Reuters
Chelsea's Olivier Giroud in action with Southampton's Wesley Hoedt. Photo: Ian Walton/Reuters

Alvaro Morata lost possession and Davide Zappacosta had allowed himself to get sucked forward. Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg released Bertrand who, with Cesar Azpilicueta exposed, used his pace to sprint to the edge of the penalty area before teeing up Dusan Tadic for a simple finish.

A second duly arrived when James Ward-Prowse's precise free-kick was perfectly directed between Alonso and Gary Cahill for Jan Bednarek to score on his Premier League debut.

The game turned in the 70th minute. Alonso's cross eluded Maya Yoshida, and from around 10 yards out, Giroud brilliantly headed past Alex McCarthy.

The confidence seeped from Southampton and Willian's cross found Hazard in space inside the penalty area, with Bertrand unable to prevent the equaliser. An attempted headed clearance then fell at Giroud's feet and he half-volleyed home.

Telegraph

Telegraph.co.uk

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