Chelsea Home Lost 2 – 3
Mark Hughes’ solution to the problem posed by Stephens’ suspension caught most people by surprise, drafting in Bednarek for an unexpected Premier League debut. That gave a clue to our strategy for dealing with star-studded opponents in Chelsea: no early mistakes, see what they can do, then show some tricks of your own. On 23 minutes it involved Højbjerg sending Bertrand away for a run that saw him outpace Azpilicueta and cross for Tadić to tap home, the offside Long wisely getting out of the ball’s path. It was a precursor to a strong showing in the second quarter of the game that meant a deserved lead as the teams left the pitch, and the half-time talking point was the performance of referee Dean rather than that of an often hapless bunch of players. Mr. Dean’s most obvious error was unseen by most fans, and (apparently) the visiting manager, but Alonso’s dreadful challenge on Long that should have brought a dismissal might reflect how the Chelsea players were reacting to the forward’s tireless performance. Having covered every blade of grass at the Northam end in the opening period, Long was obliged to do the same in a deeper position after the break, but he was also able to lead a single handed break towards the Chapel that almost brought a second goal, deserved through sheer strength of mind rather than a fortuitous deflection off his own standing foot. An increased lead wasn’t far away, though, as Bednarek arrived at the far post to slide home Ward-Prowse’s inviting free kick. At that point coach Conte made a double attacking substitution, and it’s then that doubts began to creep in for the faint of heart. Several times this season Saints have failed to respond to changes by our opponents, but surely Mark Hughes was a safer pair of hands? Possibly so, possibly not, but I suspect that the problem is really that we cannot cope with aerial threats in the post Van Dijk era: Hughes knew that from the start, which is why he played the three centre backs, but he can’t make them into better players – and all of a sudden it was not Bednarek but our old foe and renowned substitute Giroud who was to make the headlines. On 70 minutes, he headed home Alonso’s cross; on 78 he shot through a shambolic defence, thus giving his side the lead as Hazard had netted in between. Eight minutes! And, arguably, five points that Giroud has cost us in two fleeting appearances off the bench. Long and Tadić might have combined better in an earlier opportunity to have made it 3-0, and our own sub, Sims, had a late chance to rescue a point and restore some much needed confidence – instead his shot was too easy for Courtois to handle and that was that. Chelsea’s local-based following may have to travel a bit further to see their favourites next season.
LSSC Man of the Match: Shane Long. No-one could possibly have worked harder, and all he had to show for his efforts was Alonso’s kick on the back of the leg.