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John Terry marked his 400th Barclays Premier League appearance with a goal as Chelsea came from behind to beat Southampton 3-1 at Stamford Bridge.
Chelsea looked to be in danger of slipping to their first home defeat in the top flight under Jose Mourinho when Jay Rodriguez scored the opening goal after only 13 seconds following a mistake from Michael Essien.
Essien was making his first Barclays Premier League start since May 2012 but his error proved not to be crucial as Chelsea fought back to secure three points courtesy of Gary Cahill's first league goal of the season, Terry's towering header and Demba Ba's last-minute strike.
Southampton were forced to give goalkeeper Paulo Gazzaniga his first appearance for a year when Artur Boruc went off with an injury just after Cahill's equaliser and the Argentinian was beaten by Terry just a few minutes after coming on and then by Ba right at the death as Southampton slipped to their second defeat in London in eight days. Victory for second-placed Chelsea ensured they cut the gap on leaders Arsenal to four points.
Mourinho put Chelsea's 1-0 defeat by Basel in midweek down to tiredness and he made four changes to his starting line-up. Samuel Eto'o was replaced by Fernando Torres up front, while Eden Hazard and Juan Mata joined Essien in the starting line-up as Willian, Frank Lampard and John Obi Mikel dropped to the bench.
Defender Dejan Lovren returned for Southampton at the expense of Jos Hooiveld after missing the defeat at Arsenal last weekend due to illness and striker Pablo Daniel Osvaldo was preferred to Rickie Lambert in attack.
Mourinho would have been eager for Essien to stamp his authority on the game, but the midfielder's attempted clearance looped into the air towards goal and into the path of Rodriguez, who kept his nerve to beat Petr Cech with a composed right-foot finish after just 13 seconds.
Oscar headed straight at Boruc soon after he had picked up an injury that resulted in Lampard replacing him five minutes before half-time. Boruc made an outstanding reflex save to claw out a Torres header after 43 minutes as Chelsea's frustration mounted.
Mourinho replaced Essien with Ba at the break and Boruc had to be alert again to tip over Lampard's free-kick, but Chelsea were level after 54 minutes when Ba diverted Branislav Ivanovic's header onto a post and Cahill scrambled in the rebound from close range.
That proved to be the end of Boruc's afternoon as he was replaced by Gazzaniga due to injury. The young goalkeeper was picking the ball out of the back of the net just four minutes after coming on, when Terry rose highest to meet Mata's cross and head into the far corner of the net.
Chelsea stayed on the front foot and Ba flashed a shot wide with his left foot after 71 minutes after shrugging off his marker, but the Senegal striker was not to be denied after 89 minutes when he poked the ball inside the near post with his right foot after great work from Ramires on the left.
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho: “It was the worst possible start and we had to wait for the second half to come back into the game. In the second half we played 4-4-2 and gave Southampton what they didn't expect. Mata gave us what we needed, he was playing as a fake winger and we gave Southampton problems that they could not solve.
"Southampton like to play from the back but by us playing two strikers pressing, it didn't allow that. We showed character, emotion and heart. I think there was a bit of everything [in the second half].
"I told the players at half-time it's easy to play well when you're winning and crowd is supporting you, but it is more enjoyable when it's more difficult. It was a very deserved result."
"Everybody makes mistakes and Essien was trying to play when he made his, but he also played his part in our stability."
Southampton manager Mauricio Pochettino: "We had a great start. That was amazing. Before we conceded those goals, we were doing well. We were doing quite well going into the second half. We corrected a lot of things after half-time.
"This is a learning process. We're always learning. We're the youngest team in the league. We have to keep on learning. It's clear that the game changed when we scored the goal so early on. After that, we competed well. They were soft goals that we shouldn't have conceded. That definitely influenced the game in the end.
“We do not know [how bad Boruc’s injury is] at the moment. He is going to hospital to have X-rays done so that we can know exactly what has happened to his hand or wrist."
|04 Dec 2013||v Sunderland (A)|
|07 Dec 2013||v Stoke (A)|
|14 Dec 2013||v Crystal Palace (H)|
|23 Dec 2013||v Arsenal (A)|
|26 Dec 2013||v Swansea (H)|
|29 Dec 2013||v Liverpool (H)|