Chelsea concedes 2-2 draw with Southampton in EPL

Chelsea capitulated in the second half against
relegation-threatened Southampton by surrendering a two-goal lead
to draw 2-2 in the English Premier League on Wednesday.

Demba Ba and Eden Hazard gave Chelsea a comfortable halftime
lead before the west London club experienced its third successive
setback at home.

Southampton had created little in the first half, but Rickie
Lambert came off the bench after the break and made an immediate
impact, heading past Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech to reduce the
deficit.

And Jason Puncheon completed a rapid Southampton counterattack
in the 75th minute by volleying in the equalizer as the south-coast
team rose three points clear of the drop zone.

”We didn’t manage the game or have the control we were
expecting,” Chelsea manager Rafa Benitez said. ”We didn’t take
our chances when we had them, which gave them hope they could
score, and they did.”

Chelsea remains third but Tottenham is only two points behind
and the prospect of catching the Manchester rivals in the title
race appears increasingly beyond this team. The Blues are six
points behind Manchester City and 13 adrift of Manchester
United.

”My idea is always to think about the next game,” Benitez said
when asked about Chelsea’s title prospects.

Benitez, who is under contract only until the end of the season,
was booed by disgruntled fans yet again on the day a long-term
Chelsea managerial target, Pep Guardiola, was announced as the
Bayern Munich coach from next season.

Benitez was coy on the impact Guardiola’s decision might have on
any hopes he had of securing a longer Chelsea contract, having
replaced the fired Roberto Di Matteo in November.

”My job is to get three points against Arsenal,” Benitez
said.

Sunday’s game will give Chelsea a chance to halt a miserable run
at home that has also seen the team this month lose to Queens Park
Rangers in the league and Swansea in the League Cup semifinals
first leg.

Chelsea looked certain to capture three points on Wednesday when
it was in complete control in the first half against a Southampton
side it thrashed 5-1 in the FA Cup on Jan. 5.

The breakthrough took 25 minutes, though, with Benitez’s
decision to keep Fernando Torres on the bench justified as Ba
netted his third goal since arriving at the start of the January
transfer window.

Frank Lampard did the hard work on the right flank, holding off
the visiting defense before Cesar Azpilicueta whipped in a cross
that Oscar headed on for Ba to slice into the net.

Southampton created no danger near Cech’s goal until Steven
Davis struck wide but that was a rare threatening moment from the
visitors.

Chelsea was pushing for the second goal, with Lampard missing
the target from Mata’s cutback and Oscar slicing the ball wide
before the lead was extended.

Ramires hit the bar after pouncing on a loose ball and Hazard
met the rebound and buried it in the net.

Chelsea was cruising until Southampton replaced Jay Rodriguez
with Lambert in the 55th and the comeback was on three minutes
later.

Lambert headed in his 10th goal of the season after connecting
with Nathaniel Clyne’s precise cross.

”We came with a game-plan to be compact and frustrate the
opposition,” Southampton manager Nigel Adkins said. ”At half-time
it was 2-0 and I said, `Stick to the game-plan.”’

The closest Chelsea came to extending its lead was Lampard
sending a free kick over until Stamford Bridge was silenced by
Southampton’s equalizer.

Luke Shaw, Southampton’s 17-year-old defender, rampaged down the
left flank unchallenged before crossing into the penalty area,
where Ramirez clipped the ball across to Puncheon.

After teeing up the shot for himself, Puncheon volleyed beyond
Cech with a fine finish in the 75th.

”We have to defend as a unit better, especially when you are
winning,” Benitez said. ”That’s something we have to
improve.”

The discontent among the home crowd only heightened when, four
minutes later, fans’ favorite Lampard was replaced by the misfiring
Torres.

And the Spain striker missed his best chance to produce a winner
when he missed the target after being set up by Mata.

Asked if the 50 million-pound (about $80 million) striker was
affected by the jeers, Benitez said: ”I think Torres is a
professional … he concentrated and tried to give his best.”

The match was due to be played in December but was postponed due
to European champion Chelsea being at the Club World Cup in Japan,
where it lost to Brazilian champion Corinthians in the final.