Southampton 1-2 Chelsea

Ben Lyttleton reports

Chelsea were hit by flu in the build-up to this game, but Southampton suffered even more as they were hit by Tore Andre Flo, whose two first-half goals set Gianluca Vialli's side up for a 2-1 win at The Dell.

The visitors were missing Marcel Desailly, Dennis Wise, Chris Sutton, and Gianfranco Zola - indeed, they started without a single Englishman - and the chance was there for squad members like Roberto Di Matteo and Gabriele Ambrosetti to impress. And they did.

For their part, Southampton have had a miserable week, one in which Claus Lundekvam was mugged and hospitalised after a night out and Paul Jones fractured an eye-socket. But they gave their visitors one hell of a scare when Kevin Davies toe-poked in a goal from Matt Le Tissier's free-kick ten minutes from time.

They might have scored sooner but when the recalled Le Tissier's dead-ball special was headed beyond Ed de Goey's grasp by Francis Benali. Trond Egil Soltvedt slid in at the back post and, a yard out, managed to bundle the ball against the post and wide.

By then it looked like the game was up for Dave Jones, despite his early introduction of Luis Boa Morte and Davies from the bench. Chelsea had controlled the first 80 minutes, and Flo was twice desperately close to claiming a hat-trick, firstly when Deschamps released him and he failed to hit target, and then when Ambrosetti's devastating ball set up the rangy frontman to strike his shot against the post.

Playing on his own up front, there was time for one more miss at the death, when he miscontrolled a corner when unmarked just five yards out.

This was no festive friendly - both teams went into the game desperate for the points. Dave Jones' side are loitering just above the bottom three while Gianluca Vialli's cosmopolitan crew have picked up five points from their last eight league games.

Chelsea started off in the more generous mood, allowing Kachloul a free header in the second minute and ten minutes later, de Goey inexplicably carried the ball out of his area to give Southampton a free-kick on the edge of the box.

Cue Le Tissier, the prodigal son who was given a rare start. The midfield genius approached the ball, languidly swung a peg, and the ball screamed towards the top corner - but somehow de Goey's left hand deflected the shot onto the crossbar. The Dutchman had atoned for his error.

By then, though, Frank Leboeuf had been booked for a late tackle on Marian Pahars, after being clattered in the first minute by James Beattie. He then gave the ball away, conceded a corner, and were grateful that Dean Richards failed to connect with a header.

Chelsea made the hosts' profilgacy pay soon after. Gus Poyet, who was so badly fouled by Patrick Colleter on his last visit here (on Boxing Day last year) that his knee injury kept him out for the rest of the season, wreaked the ideal revenge by knocking on Di Matteo's pass to craft a lovely through-ball for Flo.

The Norwegian ran onto his skipper's pass and had enough time and space to slot the ball inside Paul Jones' far post. Suddenly the four first-teamers out were forgotten.

They would have been struggling to get back in the side had Babayaro doubled the lead with a spectacular effort after a corner was only half-cleared, but the left-back's 25-yarder cannonned back off the underside of the bar.

As the blue tide swarmed forward, the grim form of the last eight weeks seemed a distant memory. Back was the exquisite one-touch play and the odd back-heel in the midfield, the marauding runs from deep of Poyet and Petrescu, who both had headers go narrowly wide, and there was also the cutting edge that winger Ambrosetti provided.

On the stroke of half-time, Deschamps beat the offside trap with a ball that carved open the Saints' defence as easily as Marco Pierre White would slice his festive turkey. The gift was presented to that man Flo, who gleefully accepted it by chipping over Jones into a vacant net.

Flo's second-half misses ensured that fingernails could be added to the turkey sandwiches as Boxing Day fare - and though Chelsea flirted with the idea of a convincing league win at last, they had to be content with hanging on desperately for the three points for their third away win of the season.

Le Tissier managed to have the final word - but it summed up Southampton's day that it was for being booked for arguing with the referee rather than any contribution with his feet.

The New Year promises to be a worrying one for Dave Jones.

Southampton: Jones, Dodd, Lundekvam, Richards, Benali, Le Tissier, Oakley (Tessem 74), Soltvedt, Kachloul (Boa Morte 52), Pahars, Beattie (Davies 52).
Subs Not Used: Hughes, Moss.
Booked: Oakley, Le Tissier.
Goals: Davies 80.

Chelsea: De Goey, Petrescu (Morris 87), Thome, Leboeuf, Babayaro, Ferrer, Deschamps, Poyet, Di Matteo, Ambrosetti (Harley 74), Flo.
Subs Not Used: Nicholls, Cudicini, Terry.
Booked: Leboeuf, Ferrer, Deschamps, Babayaro.
Goals: Flo 18, 43.

Att: 15,232
Ref: P Alcock (Halstead).