Southampton (United States) (AFP) – Olivier Giroud hopes to have kickstarted his Chelsea career after coming off the bench to inspire an eight-minute turnaround from 2-0 down to win 3-2 at Southampton on Saturday with his first Premier League goals for the club.
The French international striker has largely struggled to make an impact since his deadline day move from Arsenal in January, putting his place at the World Cup at risk.
“I’ve been through some difficulties in my career, but I always try to come back stronger and it happened today,” said Giroud.
“The most important thing is to never give up, believe in our quality, play our game and I am proud of what we have done today.”
Defeat is another body blow to Saints’ chances of avoiding relegation as they remain rooted in the bottom three when for so long they seemed set for a first home win in the Premier League since November.
Dusan Tadic and debutant Jan Bednarek put the hosts in command, but Giroud struck either side of Eden Hazard’s equaliser to cut the gap on Liverpool and Tottenham in the fight for a top-four finish and Champions League football next season to seven points.
“As long as it is mathematically possible we will believe we can reach the top four,” added Giroud. “We have got five finals to play, after that we will see.”
The two sides will meet again in the FA Cup semi-finals next weekend, and Southampton will do well to raise themselves for cup glory with their place in the Premier League next season looking ever more precarious.
“As has been the case all year apparently we’ve got a soft underbelly,” said Saints boss Mark Hughes, whose three Premier League games in charge have now all ended in defeats. “When the momentum shifts against us we can’t get a platform and wait until the momentum swings our way again.”
– Alonso escapes red –
Southampton had got off to a perfect start thanks to a former Chelsea player as Ryan Bertrand burst past Cesar Azpilicueta before squaring for Tadic to apply a simple finish.
Only a fine save low to his right from Thibaut Courtois denied Saints a second through James Ward-Prowse as Chelsea struggled to create anything of note before the break.
“Our first half was very negative,” said Chelsea boss Antonio Conte. “We didn’t show great spirit, desire, will to fight to win this game.
“But I saw a great reaction. If you don’t have something in you’re heart, it’s difficult to come back and win this game.”
Chelsea’s frustration overspilled as tempers flared late in the first period when Marcos Alonso was lucky to escape unpunished for raking his studs down Shane Long’s calf.
“It’s a clear red card and clear intent to hurt Shane,” raged Hughes. “It could’ve broken his leg. There were three officials within five to 10 yards so how each of them missed it is a mystery to me.”
Bednarek marked his Premier League debut in style when he half-volleyed expertly across the goal and into the far corner from Ward-Prowse’s free-kick on the hour mark.
Conte swiftly responded by hauling off the disappointing Alvaro Morata and Davide Zappacosta for Pedro Rodriguez and Giroud.
And Giroud showed what he is capable of with a brave near post header from Alonso’s pinpoint cross to get Chelsea back in the game and spark an incredible fightback 20 minutes from time.
Five minutes later Hazard levelled by smashing home Willian’s cross from close range.
With Southampton reeling, Giroud then completed Chelsea’s comeback when he pounced on a loose ball inside the area to drive into the bottom corner.
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