LONDON (AP) — Chelsea capitulated in the second half against relegation-threatened Southampton by surrendering a two-goal lead to draw 2-2 in the English Premier League on Wednesday.
Demba Ba and Eden Hazard gave Chelsea a comfortable halftime lead before the west London club experienced its third successive setback at home.
Southampton had created little in the first half, but Rickie Lambert came off the bench after the break and made an immediate impact, heading past Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech to reduce the deficit.
And Jason Puncheon completed a rapid Southampton counterattack in the 75th minute by volleying in the equalizer as the south-coast team rose three points clear of the drop zone.
"We didn't manage the game or have the control we were expecting," Chelsea manager Rafa Benitez said. "We didn't take our chances when we had them, which gave them hope they could score, and they did."
Chelsea remains third but Tottenham is only two points behind and the prospect of catching the Manchester rivals in the title race appears increasingly beyond this team. The Blues are six points behind Manchester City and 13 adrift of Manchester United.
"My idea is always to think about the next game," Benitez said when asked about Chelsea's title prospects.
Benitez, who is under contract only until the end of the season, was booed by disgruntled fans yet again on the day a long-term Chelsea managerial target, Pep Guardiola, was announced as the Bayern Munich coach from next season.
Benitez was coy on the impact Guardiola's decision might have on any hopes he had of securing a longer Chelsea contract, having replaced the fired Roberto Di Matteo in November.
"My job is to get three points against Arsenal," Benitez said.
Sunday's game will give Chelsea a chance to halt a miserable run at home that has also seen the team this month lose to Queens Park Rangers in the league and Swansea in the League Cup semifinals first leg.
Chelsea looked certain to capture three points on Wednesday when it was in complete control in the first half against a Southampton side it thrashed 5-1 in the FA Cup on Jan. 5.
The breakthrough took 25 minutes, though, with Benitez's decision to keep Fernando Torres on the bench justified as Ba netted his third goal since arriving at the start of the January transfer window.