London: 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 third-place side experienced their second consecutive home setback in the league.
Southampton substitute Rickie Lambert made an immediate impact early in the second half, heading past Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech to reduce the deficit. And Jason Puncheon completed Southampton's comeback in the 75th minute when he volleyed in the equalizer. As Southampton rose three points clear of the drop zone, Chelsea missed a chance to strengthen its grip on third place.
Despite manager Rafa Benitez, who is contracted only until the end of the season, being booed by disgruntled home fans, the draw came on the day a potential Chelsea managerial target, Pep Guardiola, announced he would join Bayern Munich. The prospect of another letdown by Chelsea, having lost to Queens Park Rangers at the start of the month, appeared unlikely in the first half.
Although the breakthrough didn't come for 25 minutes, Chelsea had been in complete control with a disciplined display against a side they thrashed 5-1 in the FA Cup on Jan. 5. Benitez's decision to keep Fernando Torres on the bench was justified as Ba netted his third goal since arriving at the start of the January transfer window. 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 were pushing for the second goal, with Frank 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 were 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.
The closest Chelsea came to extending their 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. 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.