Lampard's finishing kick keeps Chelsea in comfort zone

Chelsea 2 - Southampton 1
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The Independent Football

Just four games in and the Premiership is looking like a two-horse race. Both are thoroughbreds. Granted, Manchester United may join them but, as their midfielder Darren Fletcher - young as he is - noted, they are already playing catch-up. And on Saturday two more dropped points meant that they slipped further behind, setting them, before August is out, a daunting task.

Just four games in and the Premiership is looking like a two-horse race. Both are thoroughbreds. Granted, Manchester United may join them but, as their midfielder Darren Fletcher - young as he is - noted, they are already playing catch-up. And on Saturday two more dropped points meant that they slipped further behind, setting them, before August is out, a daunting task.

Chelsea are in the Kelly Holmes position, meanwhile. Tucked in, comfortable, waiting to strike. They are winning within themselves. Six goals for and one against may sound like just a single scoreline for Arsenal, but it has garnered Jose Mourinho's side 12 points from four games and with it parity at the top. Their meeting with the champions at Highbury on 12 December appears increasingly decisive and is one to relish.

Mourinho is already breaking records. This comfortable victory, over a Southampton side in a pathetic, self-inflicted freefall, gave Chelsea their best start to a season in the top flight and two more wins would establish their most successful start ever. Not that Mourinho stayed around to discuss it. He had a plane to catch with the Chelsea officials, insisting he wasn't off to sign another player before tomorrow's transfer deadline.

The club did announce yesterday that they had acquired the 20-year-old defender Nuno Morais, who became the fourth Portuguese player at Stamford Bridge, but that was for a nominal fee from the Second Division club, Penafiel.

On this evidence Mourinho has more than enough at his disposal , despite rumours that he wants yet another central defender, and in Tiago Mendes, £8m from Benfica, he may have acquired one of the players of the season. The midfielder, so at ease in possession, is forming a powerful partnership with Frank Lampard while behind them Claude Makelele has been galvanised.

Chelsea easily brushed off the early shock of James Beattie's spectacular goal after just 12 seconds - the fourth fastest in Premiership history - to overpower their opponents before half-time. Their attacking play has been the one element of their game which has been questioned but they bombarded Southampton with a series of corners, forcing desperate saves and two goal-line clearances, before Beattie scored again. His first goal had provoked chants of "same old Beattie, always scoring" from the euphoric Southampton fans. His second led to the same chant - only this time from Chelsea, as Eidur Gudjohnsen's flick cannoned off Beattie's stomach and into the net for an own goal. Chelsea continued to force the pace and the ball struck Claus Lundekvam's outstretched arm with Lampard dispatching the penalty.

At half-time it seemed Chelsea would run up the kind of score that would help close the goal difference gap between themselves and Arsenal. But there was, instead, a flatness to their play, although they never remotely looked in trouble.

Mourinho appears to have quickly installed an ability to control games which bodes well for the challenges ahead, not least in Europe. As for Southampton, having so abruptly disposed of their manager Paul Sturrock and with Beattie still, apparently, keen to leave, these are hugely worrying times. Not least because their new head coach, Steve Wigley, does not appear to be relishing his post.

"I don't really enjoy the spotlight. That is not something I'm craving," he said. Wigley also jarred when asked about Southampton's plight. "It has been a few years since this club has been involved in a relegation battle," he said. The inference was that they would not be in one again. Complacent? It was something that the club's most successful manager in recent times, Gordon Strachan, would never have said. And that should cause alarm bells to ring on the south coast.

Goals: Beattie 1 (0-1); Beattie 34 og (1-1); Lampard 41 pen (2-1).

Chelsea (4-1-2-1-2): Cech; Ferreira, Carvalho, Terry, Bridge; Makelele (Geremi, 90); Tiago, Lampard; Cole (Duff, 57); Gudjohnsen (Kezman, 60), Drogba. Substitutes not used: Pidgeley (gk), Gallas.

Southampton (4-4-2): Niemi; Telfer, Lundekvam, Higginbotham, Le Saux; Fernandes (Folly, 23, Crouch, 70), Delap, Prutton, A Svensson (Van Damme, 83); Beattie, Phillips. Substitutes not used: Smith (gk) Cranie.

Booked: Southampton: Delap, Phillips, Prutton, Le Saux.

Referee: S Bennett (Kent).

Man of the match: Makelele.

Attendance: 40,864.

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