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Rickie Lambert celebrated his new Southampton contract in style by smashing home an exquisite free-kick to secure a 2-1 win over Chelsea.
The 31-year-old has established himself as a firm fans' favourite at St Mary's since joining from Bristol Rovers in August 2009 and has seen his stock rise considerably during his debut top-flight season. Lambert was rewarded for his performances with a new deal until 2016 during the international break and repaid Southampton in spectacular fashion this afternoon.
Making his 500th career league appearance, the Liverpudlian curled home a spectacular 25-yard free-kick to rack up his 14th league goal of the campaign - more than any other English player in the Barclays Premier League this season.
Southampton had gone ahead through another in-form striker, Jay Rodriguez, who collected a neat one-two from Steven Davis before slotting home in the 23rd minute. John Terry levelled from a corner 10 minutes later, only for Saints to hit back immediately through Lambert's fine strike. Chelsea peppered the Southampton goal throughout the second half but were unable to find a way past substitute goalkeeper Kelvin Davis, leading to a defeat that drops Rafael Benitez's side to fourth in the table.
The West Londoners made seven changes from their win over West Ham United nearly two weeks ago and struggled to get a foothold on proceedings early on. Rodriguez got Southampton's first shot away after less than two minutes and was proving a thorn in the visitors' side early on.
The summer signing's new-found confidence was epitomised by a fantastic dink over Terry's head on the halfway line, before bursting through on goal and testing Petr Cech. Rodriguez could have played the ball out wide to Jason Puncheon, who soon threatened himself, only to be denied by the onrushing Cech.
Chelsea were struggling to cope with Southampton's attacking intent and Nathaniel Clyne saw a cross-shot blocked by Branislav Ivanovic. Lambert saw his follow-up thwarted but it did not take long for the hosts to get the opener they deserved. Rodriguez collected the ball after neat team play, exchanged passes with Davis in a fine one-two on the edge of the box and calmly slotted past Cech.
The visitors were proving a threat on the counter-attack and the tactic almost paid dividends when a Maya Yoshida mishap put Fernando Torres through on goal. The Spaniard showed good poise and skill to chip the ball past Artur Boruc, only for his atempt to be chalked off for a handball in the build-up.
The disallowed goal kicked off a period of Chelsea dominance and, after Victor Moses saw a cross deflect behind off Luke Shaw, they snatched a 33rd-minute leveller. Marko Marin sent in the resulting corner and an unmarked John Terry headed home from six yards.
Chelsea were level for less than two minutes, though, thanks to a moment of magic from Lambert. After Davis was fouled by Ryan Bertrand, the 31-year-old stepped up to fire home a thunderous 30-yard free-kick into Cech's top-right hand corner.
Saints continued to press as the half came to a close and returned for the second period in similarly impressive fashion, with Clyne testing Cech at his near post moments after the restart. Chelsea, though, were improved going forward and goalkeeper Kelvin Davis, on at the break for the ill Boruc, saved a Frank Lampard strike at his near post.
Clyne blocked a Marin effort as the west Londoners continued to knock on the door, with Davis doing fantastically to tip a deflected Moses shot on to the bar and over.
Eden Hazard was introduced as Chelsea searched for another goal as play swung from end to end, with Rodriguez heading over before Jack Cork stopped a Lampard effort. Moses saw claims for a penalty against Yoshida waved away either side of efforts from Rodriguez and Shaw, before substitute James Ward-Prowse had a square ball to Steven Davis cleared on the line.
Hazard was unfortunate to see a strike fly across the face of the goal while Lampard tried to score with a backheel and then a free-kick as the Blues continued to press. But, try as they might, there was to be no equaliser as Saints held on to secure an invaluable three points.
Southampton manager Mauricio Pochettino: "It's not easy to get consecutive victories in our own stadium against hard teams like Chelsea and Liverpool. We thoroughly deserved this win. We played very well so we are really happy with the performance and the result. Victories give us confidence in the job that we are doing.
"They were both quality goals. They are both strikers and strikers live off scoring goals. It's important that they have confidence going into the remaining games."
Chelsea interim manager Rafael Benitez: "You have to be really disappointed when you do not win. In the first half we did not play with the intensity required. In the second half we were much better and had more chances but the decisions in the final third were wrong. At least we had chances.
"We knew we were in a really good position and we're still in a good position but in the remaining games we must do something more and win. We have to start thinking about the next game [Monday's FA Cup replay against Manchester United] as we cannot change the result now."
|06 Apr 2013||v Reading (A)|
|13 Apr 2013||v West Ham (H)|
|20 Apr 2013||v Swansea (A)|
|27 Apr 2013||v West Brom (H)|
|04 May 2013||v Tottenham (A)|
|12 May 2013||v Sunderland (A)|