Chelsea head back to London with all 3 points in the bag, still unbeaten domestically under Guus Hiddink and with back to back victories for the first time this season. Stand-in captain Branislav Ivanovic’s 89th minute header at St. Mary’s completed a fine turnaround for the Blues, after Spaniard Cesc Fabregas had cancelled out a first half strike from Shane Long.
Chelsea set out with the same team that had triumphed over Manchester City the week before, retaining a make shift back four without captain John Terry. Ronald Koeman made a few changes with Charlie Austin making his first Premier League start for the Saints, and former blue Oriol Romeu starting in the heart of the Southampton midfield.
However Hiddink was forced to make a change before he even got comfortable in his seat as winger Pedro pulled up with a hamstring injury and Oscar replacing him. The slight reshuffle was about one of the only talking points within the first half hour, with a Shane Long header after some fantastic work by Virgil Van Dijk just going over the bar, and an Oscar effort of no trouble to Fraser Forster were all that there was to talk about.
Forster had to wait until the 34th minute where he set the Southampton club record for longest run without conceding. The applause rippled around St. Mary’s from the Saints fans and it was not long until they were cheering again, this time for a goal.
After some confusion amidst the Chelsea defence, Baba Rahman played a header into no man’s land, with the opportunistic Irishman Shane Long nipping in to take the ball away from the Chelsea defence and deliciously lob it over the hesistant Thibaut Courtois and into the far corner. Chelsea looked to reply swiftly with Oscar getting behind the Saints defence, but his pull back deflected agonisingly wide of Forster’s far post and Southampton went into the break deservedly ahead.
With Southampton looking comfortable in the first half, Hiddink looked to his bench and to Brazilian Kenedy, on in place of Baba Rahman, to provide the spark to set his side into life.
However Southampton were content to sit on their 1-0 lead, keeping bodies behind the ball and look to utilise the pace of Long and the strength of Austin up top. Mikel should’ve levelled the scores after some confusion amongst the Southampton defence following a Willian corner, but he headed over when it looked easier to score. Chelsea were now getting a foothold in the game, retaining possession with a purpose rather than just for the sake of it.
Diego Costa was beginning to reclaim an all too familiar role of Pantomime villain, angering the home fans as he tripped Van Dijk and went into the book. And the Spanish forward should’ve put Chelsea in front after some great work by Eden Hazard, but he volleyed over the bar. Southampton felt they should’ve had a penalty when Charlie Austin was brought down by Gary Cahill, but these claims were waved away by Mr Atkinson.
Chelsea were going to need something special or a bit of luck if they were to beat Forster between the sticks. And it was the former of these that proved to be true as a Cesc Fabregas’ cross, intended for Eden Hazard, somehow managed to creep it’s way into the far post and end the run of clean sheets for the England international. Suddenly the tide had turned and it was all Chelsea.
Brazilian Willian came the closest to giving the Blues the lead but his effort trickled just wide of the post. It looked as if the result would end in a stalemate until a Willian corner found captain for the day Branislav Ivanovic, who’s powerful header was too much for Forster to handle. The goal knocked the stuffing out the Saints, and enabled Chelsea to head back to London 3 points richer.
“We gave them a big present for the goal but the team reacted very well, not just mentally but also in an attacking sense. We maintained our composure and we tried to regain possession as soon as possible, which the team did.”
He added, “We waited for the equaliser and then we were happy the corner was perfectly executed by Ivanovic. It was deserved. For big parts of the game we were great.”
Total Shots: 7 – 16
On Target: 2 – 4
Off Target: 3 – 9
Blocked: 2 – 3
Possession: 34% – 66%
Southampton: Forster, Cedric, Van Dijk, Fonte, Bertrand, Targett (Ward Prowse, 89), Davis, Romeu, Clasie, Long (Pelle, 69), Austin (Mane, 79)
Unused Subs: Stekelenburg, Martina, Yoshida, Tadic
Chelsea: Courtois, Azpilicueta, Cahill, Ivanovic, Baba Rahman (Kenedy, 45), Mikel, Fabregas, Pedro (Oscar, 7), Hazard (Matic, 90), Willian, Costa
Unused Subs: Begovic, Loftus-Cheek, Traore, Remy