Thursday 18 January 2018

Resurgent Chelsea puncture Southampton's defences

Southampton 1-2 Chelsea

Shane Long celebrates his goal for Southampton yesterday Photo: Clive Rose/Getty Images
Shane Long celebrates his goal for Southampton yesterday Photo: Clive Rose/Getty Images
Chelsea's John Obi Mikel celebrates Photo: Reuters / John Sibley
Chelsea's Kenedy tries to keep control of the ball against Southampton's Steven Davis Photo: Reuters / Dylan Martinez
Southampton's Jose Fonte tries to shake off a challenge from Chelsea's Cesar Azpilicueta Photo: Reuters / John Sibley

Dominic Fifield

Guus Hiddink may consider this the most impressive success yet of his second spell as Chelsea's interim manager. Confronted by a team who had long since forgotten what it feels like to concede a goal, let alone ship a result, the visitors rallied late to stretch their unbeaten domestic run to 14 matches.

Southampton, in the ascendancy for so long, departed almost in shock. They had not seen this reverse coming.

They were still coming to terms with surrendering a first goal in 637 minutes in all competitions, courtesy of Cesc Fabregas's cross which drifted in beyond a startled Fraser Forster, when Chelsea claimed a corner a minute from time.

Willian's delivery was belted into the area where Branislav Ivanovic, captain in the absence of the injured John Terry, leapt above Virgil van Dijk to thump a header goalwards which flew in off Forster's outstretched right hand. Once Thibaut Courtois had denied Sadio Mane in what little time remained, Chelsea had a victory to savour.

This had always felt likely to prove a tight contest, a collision between two teams who had previously endured only one defeat between them in the league this calendar year. Southampton's revival has been forged on stingy defence. Chelsea, for all the odd flash of quality provided by Fabregas, Eden Hazard and Willian in midfield, were unsettled by Pedro's early departure with a thigh injury. Indeed, the closest they came to securing a first-half reward was actually born of Cedric Soares's back pass, which flew behind with Forster stranded, and a deflection off Ryan Bertrand that spun marginally wide of a post.

By then the visitors trailed. Southampton should probably have scored sooner, not least when Shane Long headed wastefully over the bar from Van Dijk's fine control and delivery. Charlie Austin, on his first start for the club, was also permitted time and space in which to turn and shoot, his effort fizzing just wide. Steven Davis's punt upfield had been optimistic at best but it still panicked Baba Rahman, the left-back blindly nodding the loose ball inside towards Ivanovic for a gambling Long to intercept on the gallop.

The Republic of Ireland forward charged on and, with Courtois initially caught on his heels not anticipating the Ghanaian's mistake, clipped a fine finish over the goalkeeper. Rahman did not reappear after the break as his team-mates urgently tried to level.

Diego Costa might have secured it only to volley awkwardly high and wide, but it was the Spain striker's mood which degenerated most noticeably.

Yet, as ever, Costa is far more of a threat when enraged. It was his dart down the channel which gave the visitors their opportunity, the striker pulling the ball back for Fabregas as opposing players claimed a goal-kick. Unperturbed, the midfielder flung over a cross bounced in the six-yard box. Forster prodded out tentatively in a desperate attempt to force the ball away on the bounce, but could not prevent it bouncing beyond and in.


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