Chelsea manager Antonio Conte says his team showed “the right fire in our eyes” as they mounted a remarkable comeback from 2-0 down to win at Southampton.
The victory – thanks to three goals in eight second-half minutes – kept alive their faint hopes of a top-four finish in the Premier League.
Dusan Tadic’s opener, a placed effort following Ryan Bertrand’s marauding run, and Polish defender Jan Bednarek’s left-footed shot looked to be lifting Saints out of the bottom three.
But, with Mark Hughes seemingly on course for a first league victory as Southampton manager since arriving on 14 March, the entrance of substitute Olivier Giroud, who scored twice, sparked a listless Chelsea into life.
The France forward’s header – his first league goal for Antonio Conte’s team – and left-footed drive sandwiched Eden Hazard’s left-foot finish as the Blues moved within seven points of fourth-placed Tottenham.
“I was very angry from our first half,” Conte said. “In the second half we showed great character, great determination and desire to win the game. We showed the right fire in our eyes.”
For an hour, Chelsea’s performance epitomised their travails since the turn of the year, with the defending champions having collected just 12 points from the previous 33 available.
Willian’s 55th-minute shot was their first effort on target, and there were question marks over the application of several players in the build-up to both Saints goals.
One of those players – wing-back Marcos Alonso who crossed for Giroud’s header – was also fortunate to escape without punishment for standing on the back of Southampton forward Shane Long’s calf in the first half.
The incident left the Southampton manager furious and calling for the Football Association to take retrospective action, which could potentially rule Alonso out of next Sunday’s FA Cup semi-final rematch between the clubs.
“It was a poor challenge, it should have been a red card in my view,” Hughes said.
“I don’t think he was booked, so maybe people need to look at that again, retrospectively. Thankfully he’s just about OK, but he’s been raked down the calf.
“We’re not here to accuse people, and no sour grapes, but a decision needs to be made on that because it’s not acceptable.”
Southampton remain 18th as they try to avoid slipping into the Championship for the first time since 2011-12.