Lampard Lifts Chelsea As Bad Run Ends (Sky Sports)
Chelsea 4 Southampton 0
Richard Jolly reports
Debuts can be fraught, harrowing and ultimately cruel. Just ask Martin Cranie, the England Under-18 debut whose final contribution of his Southampton bow was an own goal to set Chelsea on their way to a first win in six games.
The ever excellent Frank Lampard added a quickfire brace and substitute Glen Johnson added a fourth as Chelsea's superiority was finally reflected in the scoreline as they ran rampant in the last 15 minutes.
With their most vital game of the season against Monaco on Wednesday, this was an opportune time for Claudio Ranieri's side to end their worst run of the campaign.
But, for much of the game, they were frustrated by the heroics of Antti Niemi as Southampton's Finn denied Chelsea a finish. Then the inadvertant intervention of the youngest player on the pitch gave Chelsea the advantage.
In the previous hour, Cranie's only error on a composed first appearance had been an over-confident turn which presented Gudjohnsen with a shooting chance. The striker rifled his shot wide and, from Jesper Gronkjaer corner's corner, his header was similarly mis-directed. A touch off the teenage defender later, Chelsea were celebrating as even the agile Niemi could not prevent an own goal.
Relief swept Stamford Bridge as Chelsea played with greater freedom. Southampton, whose depleted side had come for a point, were forced to attack. Alarmingly large gaps appeared in a previously resolute defence and Gudjohnsen and Lampard were not slow to exploit them.
Not that Chelsea were at full strength themselves. Joe Cole, Ranieri's favoured deputy for Damien Duff today, was granted a rare start and the major threat to Southampton, whose 3-5-2 formation reflected Chelsea's surfeit of central midfielders.
But Cole pressed his case for a place against Monaco as Niemi provided himself with another bargaining tool in contract talks. Snubbed by his fellow professionals in the PFA team of the year, the Southampton keeper had a point to prove to some of the higher-paid members of the electorate.
A fierce volley from the England man drew a flying save from Niemi while Cole was inches wide with a 20-yard shot. Gudjohnsen, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink and Robert Huth all found Niemi in similarly obdurate mood. Darren Kenton, with perfectly-timed last-ditch tackles on Cole and Hasselbaink, was his willing accomplice.
Then another Southampton defender succeeded where Chelsea had failed and beat Niemi. Paul Sturrock made the first of three attacking substitutions and the persistent Gudjohnsen, who claimed the first goal, had two more attempts to actually score one thwarted by Niemi.
At the other end, the returning Carlo Cudicini was rarely troubled. He unconvincingly parried James Beattie's poor free kick and held Kevin Phillips' lame attempt at a lob after a similarly lax header. But the Italian illustrated his value in a decisive 60 seconds, blocking brilliantly from Brett Ormerod after Mario Melchiot's error.
Chelsea counter-attacked and, after Yoann Folly's tackle stopped Hasselbaink, Lampard fired home. The value of his support play was evident again seven minutes later when he was first to react to a Hasselbaink shot Niemi parried.
Three-nil became four almost immediately as the replacement Johnson converted Gudjohnsen's cut-back. Niemi was left yelling at his defence, but the smiles were back on Chelsea faces.
Huth, Melchiot, Terry, Cole (Veron 79), Geremi, Gronkjaer (Johnson 78), Lampard
(Makelele 86), Gudjohnsen, Hasselbaink
Subs Not Used Ambrosio, Crespo
Goals Craine (og) 59, Lampard 75, 83, Johnson
Southampton Niemi, Craine (Fernandes (63), Higginbotham, Kenton (Hall
78), Lundekvam, Folly, Prutton, Svensson (Omerod 68), Telfer, Beattie, Phillips
Subs Not Used Blayney, Cainey