Mario Melchiot�s first Chelsea
goal since March 2002 earned the points in a largely uneventful
game played in freezing, monsoon-like conditions.
A biggest-ever St Mary's crowd of 32,189 was not treated
to a spectacle. Just after half-time Kevin Phillips produced
the game�s first on-target shot, delivered straight at
Carlo Cudicini. Chelsea�s first accurate strike came a
minute later, and it was far more significant.
Having switched from a diamond to a flat midfield shortly
before the interval and suddenly strung some passes together,
Chelsea started the second half with a long sequence of
quick interchanges between Frank Lampard, Claude Makelele
(a massive presence in the second half), Wayne Bridge,
Eidur Gudjohnsen and Damien Duff that stretched the Saints�
midfield and defence.
Smart touches from Lampard and finally Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink
left Mario Melchiot running diagonally into the box, onto
the ball, and able easily to slide past Niemi from eight
yards. It was a great move and cool finish.
Apart from a final five minutes of pressure from the home
side, during which Phillips missed a free header from
six yards out from Fernandes�s deep cross and the Frenchman
also skimmed the bar from 22 yards, Chelsea controlled
the second half.
Substitutes Jesper Gronkjaer (on for Joe Cole, who had
found it hard to get into the game on the left of the
diamond), Mario Stanic (replacing the fitfully brilliant
Damien Duff) and Adrian Mutu (in place of the out-of-sorts
Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink) allowed the Blues to press and
defend high up the field against Southampton�s labouring
Hasselbaink missed two glorious chances to make it two
for the Blues, both times set up by perceptive crosses
from former Saint Wayne Bridge. The first was a screwed
shot inside the box immediately after Melchiot�s strike,
and the second a disappointing header with 20 minutes
Bridge was roundly booed throughout the game, in contrast
to Graeme Le Saux, warmly cheered by the travelling Chelsea
fans before the game. Le Saux was arguably the home side�s
most effective player along with Fernandes.
The display of resilience and control, even after Gordon
Strachan�s desperate triple substitution on 68 minutes,
made it a worthwhile trip for the noisy Chelsea following.
This after a quite awful first period during which the
diamond formation of Claude Makelele at the back, Lampard
right, Cole left and Duff at the apex had looked off-kilter.
The conditions did not help � if there has been a wetter
Chelsea match than this since Viktoria Zizkov at home
it would be surprising. And Chelsea�s sheer professionalism
and confidence meant that if the Blues chances on the
break were rare, Southampton were virtually confined to
long shots and � through Delap � long throws.
This will not, then, go down as a classic, but it was
another of those matches that we might not have won pre-Roman,
and a great boost for Mario Melchiot in a testing season