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.