Gudjohnsen's double drives Chelsea closer to the dream

Southampton 1 - Chelsea 3
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The Independent Online

Jose Mourinho returned to public scrutiny here yesterday evening and, hands in his designer-suit pockets, watched his men's performance state as eloquently as any words could: the championship is ours.

Jose Mourinho returned to public scrutiny here yesterday evening and, hands in his designer-suit pockets, watched his men's performance state as eloquently as any words could: the championship is ours.

As the sun set at the conclusion of a bizarre week, in which despite Uefa's apparent leniency over charges brought against him and his club following that Champions' League game at the Nou Camp in February, the Chelsea manager appeared determined to pursue his own agenda, Chelsea claimed another victory, with a brace from Eidur Gudjohnsen and another from Frank Lampard. As they did so, they were aware that they are three more victories away from the title - given a little earlier help from their friends in the north.

Saints had approached the match with a burgeoning belief of survival following two successive League victories; but they were faced by a Chelsea seeking confirmation of their champions status, with election becoming all the more inevitable following Manchester United's concession of two points at home to Blackburn in an earlier kick-off.

Despite the distraction of Wednesday night's forthcoming Champions' League game against Bayern Munich, Chelsea extended their away record to a remarkable 41 points from a possible 48, although here there was to be no addition to their record of lock-outs of the opposition attack. The Southampton substitute Kevin Phillips saw to that with his second-half goal that brought the scoreline back, temporarily, to 2-1. But Gudjohnsen sealed it with a late third.

Unbeaten in their last five matches in the League, and with Crystal Palace defeated at home earlier, there was a massive incentive for Saints to secure victory here and put daylight between themselves and those in the relegation positions.

It had taken a James Beattie goal to breach Chelsea's rearguard in the corresponding fixture at Stamford Bridge. The striker's move to the North-west has provided an inviting opportunity for Peter Crouch, who has responded with 12 goals since Harry Redknapp arrived as manager in December, with his latest five in the same number of matches.

This was a rare occasion when the Saints forward was meeting the opposition virtually eyeball to eyeball, with goalkeeper Petr Cech only an inch or two his inferior in the battle of the vertical supremacists.

Yet, the remainder of the Chelsea back division - reorganised because of Paulo Ferreira's absence with a broken bone in his foot with Robert Huth partnering the captain, John Terry, in central defence - hardly possess the same physique.

The belief was that Saints would attempt to capitalise on Crouch's height advantage with an sustained aerial assault. Yet, curiously, it was not until the latter stages of the first half, with Southampton already a goal adrift, that Saints attempted to profit from that factor.

By then Chelsea had established their rhythm and their dominance with a formation in which Mateja Kezman was given a starting role, while Didier Drogba, who is likely to play against Bayern, was restricted to the bench.

For 21 minutes Chelsea enticed Saints into their half, craftily probing on the break then, Andreas Jakobsson was adjudged to have fouled Kezman. The ensuing free-kick was struck with typical venom by Lampard, but probably would have been dealt with by Antti Niemi, had not the ball taken a mischievous deflection off the end of the wall.

Crouch looked to have burst clear on the half hour, but to the chagrin of all Southampton connections, the referee, Mark Halsey, brought play back because of an infringement against the visitors. "Have you bought the referee?" the frustrated locals chanted at the visiting team.

Later, a long throw by Rory Delap was headed narrowly wide by Claus Lundekvam. But that was the closest the hosts came to a first-half equaliser.

It was Niemi who was by far the busier and his agility was personified when he performed a save in the air, with his feet, to prevent a back-pass from Lundekvam, under pressure from Kezman, entering the net. From the resulting corner, the goalkeeper responded well to keep out Huth's low drive.

But he was powerless when, seven minutes before the interval, a splendid run by the full-back Johnson into the heart of the home defence, left four Southampton players in his wake, before pulling the ball back, allowed Eidur to slide the ball home.

After the break, Saints still retained a conviction that all was not lost. A Crouch header unnerved the Chelsea defence, and a header from the substitute Phillips was tipped over. But from the resulting short corner from Anders Svensson, and an interchange with Delap, Phillips was unmarked as he converted the chance.

Drogba was sent on for Kezman, and, he made a telling contribution at the end of an incisive Blues move, combining superbly with Gudjohnsen, culminating in a second for the Icelander.

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