Chelsea missed the opportunity to go eight points clear at the top of the Barclays Premier League by drawing 1-1 against Southampton in an entertaining game at Stamford Bridge where the officials’ decisions will once again be scrutinised.
Chelsea 1- 1 Southampton
Scorers: Chelsea - Diego Costa (11); Southampton - Tadic (19pen)
Jose Mourinho’s men were looking to respond to their European exit by tightening their grip on the title after Manchester City’s loss at Burnley and went in front through Diego Costa’s first Premier League goal in almost two months.
Dusan Tadic equalised after a contentious penalty, awarded for a foul by Nemanja Matic on the impressive Sadio Mane. Replays showed Matic slid in from behind and made contact with the ball, but referee Mike Dean pointed to the spot and booked the Chelsea midfielder.
Chelsea might have had a spot kick of their own for a Tadic foul on Branislav Ivanovic, but then Dean gave the Blues the benefit of the doubt rather than reduce them to ten men for all but the opening minute of the second half.
Matic could have marked his domestic return following a two-match ban for his dismissal against Burnley with another sending-off, but he avoided a second booking for a foul on Mane within seconds of the restart.
Chelsea, under pressure for much of the contest, finished on the attack, but Fraser Forster made fine saves from Oscar, Eden Hazard and Juan Cuadrado to earn Saints a point.
Former Celtic goalkeeper Forster, who led a defiant second-half rearguard, said: “We were fantastic in the first half and created a lot of chances and were unfortunate just to get the penalty really. Second half we knew we would have to defend as you do at Stamford Bridge and we’re absolutely delighted to come away with a point. It’s massive and keeps the confidence high.”
For the second successive match against Southampton, Mourinho bemoaned decisions by the match officials. Mourinho was fined £25,000 for saying there was a “clear campaign” against his side after Cesc Fabregas was denied a penalty and booked for diving instead in the 28 December draw at St Mary’s.
The Blues boss was frustrated Matic was penalised for Tadic’s penalty and that Ivanovic was not awarded a spot-kick at the other end.
“I’m happy with the situation. I’m happy with the six-point lead, but I’m not happy with the result,” Mourinho said.
“If you remember our two matches against Southampton: in one game, one penalty that is not a penalty and in another game a penalty that was not given. You are speaking about six points transformed into two points.”
Mourinho was clearly upset with the penalty decisions, but bit his tongue on this occasion. He said: “My opinion is not important. Important is Mr Mike Dean (the referee). His decision was a penalty and his decision was no penalty on Ivanovic.”
Chelsea, who are now six points clear at the top with a game in hand on City, went in front when Costa netted his 18th Premier League strike of the season.
Hazard played the ball wide for Ivanovic to cross and an unmarked Costa headed in from six yards.
Thibaut Courtois had to save from Mane after a move involving former Chelsea man Ryan Bertrand and Tadic before Saints equalised from the spot when Matic was adjudged to have fouled Mane after his one-two with ex-Celtic midfielder Victor Wanyama. Matic was booked and there were few complaints from Chelsea’s players before Tadic’s penalty went in.
Ivanovic was then tripped by Tadic in the area, but the right-back’s theatrical fall dissuaded Dean from awarding what would have been a just penalty.
Mourinho would have been relieved Chelsea got the benefit of the doubt early in the second period when Mane wrong-footed Matic and was tripped. The Serbian was fortunate not to receive a red card and was soon replaced by Ramires.
Morgan Schneiderlin barged Fabregas over before Costa flicked Willian’s volley on to a post and then acrobatically hit Hazard’s cross back to the Belgian, who headed in from an offside position.
As the second half wore on, Chelsea hemmed Saints deep in their own half and Forster made a double save to keep out Oscar’s header and Hazard’s follow-up and then saved from Oscar again. Costa blasted over under pressure before Forster saved from Cesar Azpilicueta. From the resulting corner he denied Juan Cuadrado, while John Terry had a follow-up effort blocked on the line and then lashed wide as Saints held on.