A late Branislav Ivanovic goal halted high-flying Southampton as we came away from the south coast with all three points after falling behind in a 2-1 win.
Admittedly, Chelsea were second best for large parts of the first half, perhaps to be expected given Southampton’s amazing recent run which has seen them go entirely under the radar well into the upper reaches of the league. In fact, it was during this game that Fraser Forster set a club record 708 minutes without conceding a goal, testament to Ronald Koeman’s side and their high level of performances. It was width that Southampton utilised as their main weapon, using wing-backs Cedric Soares and Matt Targett to devastating effect as Cesar Azpilicueta and Baba Rahman often struggled to keep them at bay.
That said, luckily our centre back pairing were at hand to keep Saints chances to a relative minimum, but we were often labouring to make their hard work count for something at the other end of the pitch. Diego Costa et al had very few chances themselves to speak of.
While Southamptons goal came in highly fortuitous circumstances, it was hard to argue they did not deserve it. Abdul Baba Rahman played a short header back to Ivanovic, but Shane Long read it, nipped in and dinked a ball over the onrushing Courtois to open the scoring just before the break.
You got the feeling that were this game to have occured with Jose Mourinho in charge, heads would have stayed permanently down and Southampton would have ran away with the game, however – with renewed belief under Guus Hiddink – we came out swinging in the second half. Mikel seemed to avoid a header rather than attack it and a fine chance fell for Diego Costa at the far post but he could only fashion to put it wide.
A major scare befell the travelling Blues though as Gary Cahill seemingly tripped Charlie Austin and a likely penalty was waved away by Martin Atkinson. If that was given and then converted, one would have said it was game set and match – a lucky break for Cahill and Chelsea and one we would take full advantage of.
If Southamptons goal was considered flukey then there was no doubt that our goal was accidental, let alone lucky. Cesc Fabregas floated in a ball which somehow evaded everybody including the seemingly unbreachable Forster and dropped into the far corner for a equaliser with quarter of an hour left. It was the Spaniards first goal of the season and he could not have meant it any less.
With the scores level and wind in our sails, Chelsea pressed on for the winner and got it with only a few minutes left on the clock. Willian, who was against as industrious as he was impressive, delivered a corner in and a rising Ivanovic thumped home the header for a late winner to see us take our domestic unbeaten streak to 13 games and move to 11th in the table. Currently sitting 11 points off the top four spot, whisper it quietly but it is not impossible given the unpredictability of the league this season that we can gatecrash next seasons Champions League party with a winning run.
Our next game is against Norwich at Carrow Road on Tuesday.