Chelsea caught late by sucker Puncheon
Chelsea 2 Southampton 2:Chelsea had been braced for the death of the slow-burning dream. They had come to consider Pep Guardiola, now Bayern Munich-bound and the ideal choice as their next permanent manager, as being beyond them. Instead, the shock waves came from a Southampton side who looked finished as they trailed to wonderful first-half goals from Demba Ba and Eden Hazard.
Yet they surrendered here, as Southampton manager Nigel Adkins made attacking changes and enjoyed almost implausible reward. After his first substitute, Rickie Lambert, had reduced the deficit, his team continued their recent improvement with a dramatic counter-attacking equaliser smashed home in stunning style by Jason Puncheon.
Rafael Benitez’s decision to withdraw Frank Lampard for Fernando Torres with 11 minutes to go was unpopular and the Spain striker laboured, snatching at his one chance to paint himself as the hero.
This was the night when Chelsea were supposed to put daylight behind them in third place in the table. But the lowest home league crowd of the season departed with further fuel to their grievances.
There was little to stir the senses on a cold night at the outset but Chelsea got the breakthrough they craved midway through the first half.
Benitez started with arguably his most exciting attacking midfielders but it was the selection of Ba in preference to Torres up front that had felt like the vote-winner.
Ba marked his Chelsea debut after his arrival from Newcastle with two goals in the 5-1 FA Cup drubbing of Southampton on the Saturday before last and offered another glimpse of his clinical nature inside the penalty area. Adkins was cursing his players’ inability to clear adequately when Frank Lampard showed skill on the right before laying off to Cesar Azpilicueta, who crossed with zip.
Oscar flung himself into an attempted header with Jos Hooiveld in close attendance, and the ball spun up towards Ba. What happened in the following split-second advertised his quality. Reacting in a flash, Ba leapt into a right-footed volley and what it lacked in raw power it made up for in accuracy. Artur Boruc could do nothing to prevent the ball from squeezing into the corner of his net. A stat: the regularly maligned Torres took 25 games to reach three goals for Chelsea.
Southampton had named Lambert and Gaston Ramirez among the substitutes and starting with Jay Rodriguez as the lone striker.
The goal, though, brought liberation to Chelsea and they finished the half with panache. Southampton once again failed to clear their lines and after Ramirez had adjusted his body to thump a deflected shot against a post, Hazard outdid him by guiding the rebound first-time and left-footed into the corner.
The introduction of Lambert early in the second half brought an instant dividend. comfort. Nathaniel Clyne appeared to have been slide-tackled by Hazard only for the Chelsea winger to weakly allow him to wrest back possession, maraud further forward and cross. Lambert dropped off Gary Cahill, Azpilicueta froze and the striker headed firmly beyond Petr Cech.
Chelsea responded. Ba volleyed over from Juan Mata’s wonderful dink over the top and Lampard sent a free-kick over the wall and wide. The home team still looked in charge. But they were caught, on the break following a surging run by the left back Luke Shaw from inside his own half.
Shaw crossed, another attacking Saints substitute, Ramirez, could not make contract but Puncheon did so with interest. With one touch to tee up the shot, he crashed the second with his left-foot spectacularly into the far corner.