SOUTHAMPTON — Antonio Conte praised his Chelsea players for rediscovering the “fire in their eyes” after substitute Olivier Giroud inspired a 3-2 comeback victory at Southampton.
Dusan Tadic capitalised on a limp first-half display from Chelsea to give Southampton the lead at St Mary’s and when Jan Bednarek doubled their advantage on the hour mark, Conte’s men appeared to be heading for their seventh Premier League defeat of the season.
Giroud’s introduction for Alvaro Morata moments later turned the tide, however. The France international scored twice and Eden Hazard also found the net as Chelsea struck three times in the space of eight minutes to secure a morale-boosting win.
“I must be honest — I was very angry for our first half, because we didn’t show great desire, great will to fight, great will to play in the right way,” Conte said.
“After the first half I was very disappointed, but I’m the first to take responsibility, because I’m the coach of this team. If they decide we can’t fight in the right way, I’m the first person to take responsibility.
“In the second half we showed great character, great reaction, great desire to win the game. We showed the right fire in our eyes.
“We must be pleased for the second half. For me it’s not important to win, lose or draw the game. The most important thing is to always play with a great intensity, with a great will to fight from the start until the end.
“We are having a difficult season and we know this, but especially in this situation I think you can see the men before the players.”
Giroud was the star of Chelsea’s comeback, providing clinical finishes for their first and third goals and helping to create the equaliser for Hazard.
“I’m very happy for him,” Conte added when asked about the former Arsenal man’s performance.
“We changed something in the second half but the difference was the approach, the desire, the will to fight to try not to lose another game.
“We have two strikers. Olivier came to Chelsea in January after a bad muscular problem. Now he’s in good fitness.
“I try to make the best decision for the team. Don’t forget that Morata scored against Leicester and against Tottenham. I have two good strikers and I try to make the best decision at the start of the game or during the game.”
Less positive news for Chelsea is the fact that Marcos Alonso could face a Football Association charge for a stamp on Shane Long that went unseen and unpunished by referee Mike Dean shortly before half-time.
Conte claimed to have missed the incident in real time, but Southampton manager Mark Hughes was more forthright in his assessment.
“It’s a really poor challenge,” he insisted. “It should have been a red card in my view. It’s very disappointing that the officials didn’t see it. One of them should have. It could have had bad consequences for Shane. Thankfully he is ok.
“You’ve got to get the big decisions right. Maybe that’s why we don’t have any [British officials] at the World Cup this year.”
Liam is ESPN FC’s Chelsea correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @Liam_Twomey.