London: Chelsea forfeited a two-goal lead at Stamford Bridge as Premier League strugglers Southampton came from behind to claim a well-deserved 2-2 draw on Wednesday evening.
Demba Ba, a visceral, physical presence, opened the scoring by twisting his body to stroke home Cesar Azpilicueta’s deflected cross before Eden Hazard doubled the lead just before half-time with a sumptuous half-volley.
Nigel Adkins responded by bringing Rickie Lambert on and, within three minutes of entering the fray, the 30-year-old had headed his side back into the game. The Saints’ comeback was complete when Jason Puncheon thundered in a late equaliser.
Rafa Benitez, fresh from leading his side to a 4-0 win at the Britannia Stadium, once again selected Ba upfront ahead of the much-maligned Fernando Torres, while Gary Cahill started in place of the rested Branislav Ivanovic.
Nigel Adkins made two changes to the side that beat Aston Villa, with Lambert and Gaston Ramirez surprisingly rested, replaced by Guly Do Prado and Steven Davis respectively.
Southampton started well, frustrating Chelsea, pressing high in midfield and retaining the ball with confidence, though could have been behind early after Ba’s pull-back looped off Maya Yoshida and almost bobbled in at Artur Boruc’s far post.
Chelsea’s play was increasingly tepid and slow, much to the disappointment of the home crowd, until, just before the half-hour mark, Frank Lampard drove his team forward.
The midfielder found Azpilicueta, who whipped a cross into the box. Oscar and Jos Hooiveld rose to meet the delivery, with the ball ricocheting into the air for Ba to acrobatically volley into the bottom corner via an onrushing Yoshida.
Chelsea upped the tempo before the break, as Lampard went close with two venomous efforts, before the Blues eventually got their reward. Ramires cracked a shot against the frame of the goal, but Hazard was on hand to expertly smash the rebound past Southampton’s Polish keeper.
The two sides continued to exchange extended periods of conservative possession after the restart, but it wasn’t until Adkins brought on the talismanic Lambert that Southampton began to show any bite.
Just three minutes after the Englishman`s introduction, Nathaniel Clyne burst forward from deep and floated a cross into the box. Lambert darted in front of Cahill and thumped an unstoppable header past Petr Cech.
The game opened up as an invigorated Saints pushed for an equaliser, creating space for Chelsea to exploit on the break with both Ashley Cole and Ba going close to scoring.
But where the Blues were profligate, Southampton were clinical. 17-year-old Chelsea target Luke Shaw bombed up the left flank, leaving Azpilicueta in his dust, before firing a cross into the box. Puncheon met the delivery, flicked the ball up and rifled a ferocious volley past Cech.
Southampton dropped deeper, looking to preserve a valuable point, and Benitez brought on Torres in search of a winner. The Spaniard came closest to scoring for the hosts, jinking into the box before dragging his shot wide.
But the visitors clung on to a valuable point in their quest for Premier League survival, while Chelsea’s poor home form continued.
First Published: Thursday, January 17, 2013, 09:05