Chelsea In Seventh Heaven (Sky Sports)
Southampton 0 Chelsea 1
Richard Jolly reports
If this is to be Gordon Strachan's farewell at Southampton, it was an unhappy end to a successful two years as Mario Melchiot's goal earned Chelsea a 1-0 victory.
Strachan hugged chairman Rupert Lowe before kick-off but he had less to enjoy thereafter as Chelsea extended their winning streak to seven games and Southampton's goal drought now spans three games.
Reunions - for Graeme Le Saux and Wayne Bridge - overshadowed by the prospect of forthcoming farewells as, for once, Chelsea's hold on the spotlight slipped.
Their hold on the lead Melchiot gave them in the 47th minute was, injury time apart, more secure. Indeed, it would have been greater but for a rarity this week: poor Dutch finishing.
However, it was not from Melchiot, clinical in beating Antti Niemi, but Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink. The recalled striker sliced horribly wide minutes after Melchiot's opener and later headed wide and fired over.
He had greater success as a provider, linking up with Damien Duff for an early shot the Irishman stabbed wide. And his was the measured pass for Melchiot's goal, made in Holland and scored in Southampton.
Finally, when Hasselbaink was anticipating an open goal, Le Saux met Duff's inviting cross. He was inches away from a 17th Chelsea goal as his touch passed the post, but his blushes were spared.
And a second goal proved superfluous for Chelsea as they exerted control after the interval with Frank Lampard workmanlike, Claude Makelele the epitome of efficiency and, until Saints stirred in a frantic finale, William Gallas untroubled in defence.
His cause was helped by the absence of James Beattie, scorer of 70 percent of Southampton's Premiership goals. Kevin Phillips attempted to compensate absence with two early long-range efforts.
But the chances Beattie would have relished fell elsewhere. Danny Higginbotham miscued his header from Le Saux's corner and the left back, his supply from the flanks a feature of his decade at Stamford Bridge, crossed for Beattie's deputy, the enthusiastic but ineffective Brett Ormerod, to head over. Leandre Griffit's teenage promise offered more, and he had Carlo Cudicini scrambling with a 20-yard curler.
After falling behind, Saints' desperation was summed up by the rare sight of Agustin Delgado outside South America; it was almost a masterstroke. The lesser-spotted Ecuadorian obligingly got out of Phillips' way for the former Sunderland man to shoot wide. Delgado's presence was a distraction for the Chelsea defence, too, when Fabrice Fernandes swung in a cross and the unmarked Phillips headed inches wide.
Fernandes himself shot just wide and, in the final seconds of the game, surely Strachan's least favourite Saint almost salvaged a point, Delgado's header going inches past the upright. Saints' main concern, though, will be that Strachan's attentions may be on a new post.
Southampton Niemi, Telfer,
Higginbotham, Lundekvam, Le Saux, Fernandes, Delap, Griffit (Pruton 69), Marsden
(Svensson 70), Ormerod (Delgado 69), Phillips.
Subs Not Used Jones, Hall
Chelsea Cuducini, Bridge, Gallas,
Melchiot, Terry, Cole (Gronkjaer 58), Duff (Stanic 73), Lampard, Makelele, Gudjohnsen,
Hasselbaink (Mutu 78).
Subs Not Used Ambrosio, Johnson
Goals Melchiot (46)
Referee D. Gallagher (Oxford)