Substitute Olivier Giroud scored twice as Chelsea came from 2-0 down to win at Southampton and keep alive their faint hopes of a top-four finish in the Premier League.
Dusan Tadic’s opener, a placed effort following Ryan Bertrand’s marauding run, and Polish defender Jan Bednarek’s left-footed shot looked to be lifting Saints out of the bottom three.
But, with Mark Hughes seemingly on course for a first league victory as Southampton manager since arriving on 14 March, Giroud sparked a listless Chelsea into life.
The France forward’s header – his first league goal for Antonio Conte’s team – and left-footed drive sandwiched Eden Hazard’s left-foot finish as the Blues moved within seven points of fourth-placed Tottenham.
For an hour, Chelsea’s performance epitomised their travails since the turn of the year, with the defending champions having collected just 12 points from the previous 33 available.
Willian’s 55th-minute shot was their first effort on target, and there were question marks over the application of several players in the build-up to both Saints goals.
One of those players – wing-back Marcos Alonso – was also fortunate to escape without punishment for standing on the back of Southampton forward Shane Long’s calf in the first half.
Southampton remain 18th as they try to avoid slipping into the Championship for the first time since 2011-12.
No respite for Southampton or Hughes
After being sacked by Stoke, Hughes is facing the ignominious prospect of playing a part in the relegation of two clubs this season.
The upturn in results the Saints board hoped for when the Welshman was brought in to replace Mauricio Pellegrino just over a month ago has not materialised.
While an FA Cup semi-final against Chelsea is on the horizon, Hughes has presided over three successive league defeats, with three goals conceded in each match.
Following an abject 3-0 defeat at West Ham, there were encouraging signs in a 3-2 defeat at Arsenal last Sunday, and more of the same against Chelsea.
Southampton controlled proceedings for about 70 minutes, but their biggest problem is turning performances into points.
One victory in 20 league matches – against bottom club West Brom – does not bode well for the Saints, who could be six points adrift of safety later.
Conte changes the flow
Much of Chelsea’s display typified the problems that have undermined their defence of the title and have been exacerbated by speculation over the future of Conte.
The Italian has not helped himself at times, allowing himself to become embroiled in a public spat with Manchester United counterpart Jose Mourinho and at times cutting a desolate figure on the touchline.
There was again an absence of emotion and touchline theatrics that marked first season at Stamford Bridge, but Conte did turn this contest on its head with the introduction of Giroud and Pedro.
Chelsea lacked conviction in front of goal until Giroud replaced Alvaro Morata, while Davide Zappacosta had a largely forgettable afternoon before being replaced by Pedro.
The former Torino man was caught out of position for Tadic’s opening goal and had just 11 touches in Southampton territory during the first period.
By contrast Ryan Bertrand created the opening goal for Saints and appeared to be almost permanently stationed in the Chelsea half, having 23 touches.
Giroud, though, made the difference – scoring twice from his two efforts on goal.
Man of the match – Olivier Giroud (Chelsea)
‘Mike Dean was five yards away’ – what they said
Southampton manager Mark Hughes:
“That tackle [Marcos Alonso on Shane Long] could’ve had significant consequences for Shane and Chelsea going down to 10 men at that point with us in the ascendancy would’ve changed the game.
“Mike Dean was five yards away, his assistant was seven yards away and the fourth official was six yards away… how can they not see it when everyone else did?
“Some of our guys are up for what we’ve got ahead of ourselves. I’m learning about the group more and more each training session and match. I’m comfortable with the guys who will get us out of this.
“We’re still conceding goals and they’re just slips in concentration.”
Chelsea manager Antonio Conte:
“A good win but for me it was important to see the right spirit, the right passion and enthusiasm in the second half. In the first half we didn’t play well but not just that, they put more into the tempo than us.
“I was very disappointed but we must be pleased by the second half. The most important thing is to show in every game the right passion and to fight until the end. We need to finish this season in the best possible way.
“I don’t know why the desire wasn’t there but the coach is the first person to have the fault. It doesn’t matter that we won the game 3-2, it was important to see the right reaction and fight in the eyes of my players.
“Southampton played a good game and took a lot of confidence after their first goal because they were nervous at the start. It was difficult for us to come back so we must be pleased by the desire we showed.
“I didn’t see Marcos Alonso’s challenge and after the game I don’t want to comment on the referee’s decision.”
‘Super-sub Giroud’ – the stats
- Southampton have lost consecutive Premier League games after scoring two or more goals for the first time ever.
- Chelsea have won a Premier League game from two goals down for the first time since August 2002 under Claudio Ranieri (3-2 v Charlton).
- Hughes is only the second manager to lose three Premier League games against the same opponent in a single season after Graeme Souness vs Arsenal in 2004-05.
- The Blues have won five in a row against Saints in the league for the first time ever.
- Tadic has been directly involved in 45 Premier League goals since his debut in August 2014 (18 goals, 27 assists), 14 more than any other Southampton player.
- Bednarek is only the third Polish player to score in the Premier League, after Robert Warzycha in 1992 and Marcin Wasilewski in 2015
- Giroud has netted 19 goals in the Premier League as a sub, a haul only Jermain Defoe can better (24).
- Giroud is also the top-scoring sub in the Premier League this season, with six goals from the bench.
- Giroud is the first player to score an away goal against the same opponent for different clubs in a single Premier League season since Mikel Arteta (for Everton and Arsenal v Blackburn 2011/12).
- Hazard has scored 69 Premier League goals for Chelsea; only Frank Lampard (147) and Didier Drogba (104) have netted more.
Both clubs play again before facing each other in their FA Cup semi-final at Wembley on 22 April (15:00 BST). Southampton travel to Leicester City on Thursday, 19 April (19:45 BST kick-off), while Chelsea visit Turf Moor to play Burnley on the same evening (19:45 BST kick-off).
- 35BednarekSubstituted forGabbiadiniat 90+2′minutes
- 14RomeuBooked at 78mins
- 23HøjbjergBooked at 42mins
- 21BertrandBooked at 65mins
- 16Ward-ProwseBooked at 44minsSubstituted forAustinat 79′minutes
- 11TadicSubstituted forSimsat 83′minutes
- 7LongBooked at 81mins
- 24CahillBooked at 90mins
- 21ZappacostaSubstituted forPedroat 61′minutes
- 22WillianBooked at 82mins
- 10E HazardBooked at 64minsSubstituted forMosesat 86′minutes
- 9MorataSubstituted forGiroudat 61′minutes
- Mike Dean
- Shots on Target
Match ends, Southampton 2, Chelsea 3.
Second Half ends, Southampton 2, Chelsea 3.
Gary Cahill (Chelsea) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.
Foul by Gary Cahill (Chelsea).
Shane Long (Southampton) wins a free kick on the right wing.
Offside, Southampton. Ryan Bertrand tries a through ball, but Charlie Austin is caught offside.
Substitution, Southampton. Manolo Gabbiadini replaces Jan Bednarek.
Attempt blocked. Josh Sims (Southampton) right footed shot from the left side of the box is blocked. Assisted by Ryan Bertrand with a cross.
Attempt saved. Josh Sims (Southampton) left footed shot from the left side of the box is saved in the centre of the goal.
Attempt saved. Pierre-Emile Højbjerg (Southampton) header from the centre of the box is saved in the top centre of the goal. Assisted by Ryan Bertrand with a cross.
Corner, Southampton. Conceded by Victor Moses.
Substitution, Chelsea. Victor Moses replaces Eden Hazard.
Foul by Olivier Giroud (Chelsea).
Wesley Hoedt (Southampton) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Substitution, Southampton. Josh Sims replaces Dusan Tadic.
Willian (Chelsea) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.
Foul by Willian (Chelsea).
Pierre-Emile Højbjerg (Southampton) wins a free kick on the left wing.
Attempt blocked. Cesc Fàbregas (Chelsea) right footed shot from outside the box is blocked. Assisted by Willian.
Shane Long (Southampton) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.
Pedro (Chelsea) wins a free kick on the left wing.
Foul by Shane Long (Southampton).
Attempt blocked. Pedro (Chelsea) left footed shot from outside the box is blocked. Assisted by Willian.
Corner, Chelsea. Conceded by Ryan Bertrand.
Substitution, Southampton. Charlie Austin replaces James Ward-Prowse.
Goal! Southampton 2, Chelsea 3. Olivier Giroud (Chelsea) left footed shot from the centre of the box to the bottom right corner following a set piece situation.
Oriol Romeu (Southampton) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.
Marcos Alonso (Chelsea) wins a free kick in the attacking half.
Foul by Oriol Romeu (Southampton).
Foul by César Azpilicueta (Chelsea).
Shane Long (Southampton) wins a free kick on the left wing.
Goal! Southampton 2, Chelsea 2. Eden Hazard (Chelsea) left footed shot from the centre of the box to the high centre of the goal. Assisted by Willian with a cross.
Attempt blocked. N’Golo Kanté (Chelsea) right footed shot from outside the box is blocked. Assisted by Andreas Christensen.
Delay over. They are ready to continue.
Delay in match Wesley Hoedt (Southampton) because of an injury.
Goal! Southampton 2, Chelsea 1. Olivier Giroud (Chelsea) header from the centre of the box to the bottom left corner. Assisted by Marcos Alonso with a cross.
Eden Hazard (Chelsea) wins a free kick in the attacking half.
Foul by Cédric Soares (Southampton).
Foul by Eden Hazard (Chelsea).
Oriol Romeu (Southampton) wins a free kick in the defensive half.