Saints' cup dream ends at Wembley

By SFC Media time Sun 22 Apr Chelsea v Saints
Photo by James Bridle | Mario Lemina
Sun 22 Apr 3PM
English FA Cup
Giroud [46'] Morata [82']
yellow card
Yoshida (40') Romeu (50') Lemina (55') Hoedt (65')
Referee: Martin Atkinson | Venue: Wembley Stadium | Attendance: 73,416

Southampton’s best FA Cup run for 15 years came to an end at Wembley as Chelsea struck early and late in the second half to deny Saints the chance to avenge last season’s EFL Cup final defeat to Manchester United.

The Blues dominated a first half that Mark Hughes’s men did well to end on level terms, but parity would last only a matter of seconds into the second period as familiar scourge Olivier Giroud tiptoed into the box to score again at Saints’ expense.

Saints responded with tremendous spirit. Nathan Redmond came agonisingly close to an equaliser before fellow substitute Alvaro Morata headed home at the other end to effectively confirm Chelsea’s return to Wembley in three weeks’ time.

Still Saints battled on, as Charlie Austin struck the base of the post virtually straight from kick-off, but any element of good fortune was missing, and the sea of red and white at one end of Wembley left wondering what might have been.

Mark Hughes promised changes but made only two, as James Ward-Prowse and Dušan Tadić dropped out of the side to make way for Mario Lemina and Austin.

Significantly, that meant two orthodox forwards on the pitch. Ironically, most of the tactical talk in the build-up had centred around the possibility of Antonio Conte starting with two strikers. He didn’t.

Chelsea, who had battled back to win from a position of peril against Saints only eight days prior in the Premier League, fired the first warning shot.

Eden Hazard and Giroud – Chelsea’s two goalscorers at St Mary’s – combined again as the Belgian turned sharply 25 yards out and rifled a rising shot only inches over.

Hazard was at the heart of things again in the seventh minute, driving at the Saints defence and finding Willian to his right, who cut inside and curled one on to the top of Alex McCarthy’s crossbar.

LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 22: Shane Long(R) of Southampton jumps with Gary Cahill(L) of Chelsea during the Emirates FA Cup Semi-Final between Chelsea and Southampton, at Wembley Stadium on April 22, 2018 in London, England. (Photo by Matt Watson/Southampton FC via Getty Images)
Shane Long competes for a high ball with Chelsea skipper Gary Cahill

These were dangerous times for Saints, even so early in the game. Hughes’s men were soon indebted to Maya Yoshida for a brilliant last-ditch tackle on Hazard in the box, before Willian sent a free kick from a promising position just over.

It had been a scary start, but by the midpoint in the first half Saints had settled. Their use of the ball improved, Hazard cut a more peripheral figure and Lemina forced Willy Caballero to make his first save with a 20-yard daisy-cutter,

Chelsea remained in the ascendancy, but sights of goal had become sparse and less clear-cut. 

Willian sent Cédric rocking back into his own penalty area with a venomous strike, before the Brazilian’s corner was helped on at the near post and flashed agonisingly across the six-yard box.

Saints had thus far coped admirably with the threat of Giroud, who had already scored three times against them this season, but the physical frontman served a timely reminder when he sent an acrobatic volley flying narrowly wide of McCarthy’s left upright.

Having got to half time with their clean sheet intact, Saints would survive only 28 seconds longer.

Again, Hazard and Giroud combined, as the former plucked the ball out of the air with a graceful first touch and supplied the latter in the box.

Giroud still had plenty to do, as goalkeeper and defenders converged, but the big man showed some nifty footwork to waltz his way through and prod the ball home, off balance, from barely two yards.

Hazard then set about burying the tie, as Chelsea began the second half as they did the first, surging into the area and looking to bend one, only to see his shot whistle past the far post.

Saints needed to stay in the game, but instead threatened to go one better. Wesley Hoedt’s firm pass into the feet of Austin was cleverly stepped over by the striker for partner Long to race on to.

But as Caballero advanced, the Irishman’s crucial first touch was too heavy, and the ball raced out of play as he attempted to round the keeper.

LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 22: Charlie Austin of Southampton during the Emirates FA Cup Semi-Final between Chelsea and Southampton, at Wembley Stadium on April 22, 2018 in London, England. (Photo by Matt Watson/Southampton FC via Getty Images)
Agony for Charlie Austin, as a chance to score at Wembley drifts away

Long left the field visibly frustrated just after the hour, along with Pierre-Emile Højbjerg, as Tadić and Redmond entered the fray in a double swap.

Tadić’s first involvement was to deliver a flurry of corners – one of which was flicked on to the outstretched hand of Giroud, but deemed too close for the scorer to react.

Then fellow substitute Redmond set about making himself a hero, charging on to a loose ball and drilling a low shot from 20 yards that was almost too close to Caballero, who was incredibly fortunate to see it spin off the underside of his arm and dribble inches wide, as if watching a slow-motion replay.

Caballero had another heart-in-mouth moment when he nearly fumbled a high ball over his own goal line, only to be reprieved by a soft free-kick decision.

The game was opening up, as Saints continued to push manfully. The risk was more space for Hazard, who forced a flying save from McCarthy, before Cédric’s clearance against Yoshida could easily have beaten his own keeper.

With 12 minutes to play, Hughes threw his final card, introducing Manolo Gabbiadini for Jan Bednarek, but Conte responded by bringing on Morata for Giroud.

A matter of seconds later, Cesar Azpilicueta crossed from the right and Morata gleefully headed down into the ground and up into the net.

With only eight minutes left, Saints needed something miraculous. When Ryan Bertrand’s low cross ran beyond Gabbiadini and reached Austin on the stretch, the net needed to bulge.

Instead the striker, who did so well to get there in the first place, sent his shot back across Caballero and against the base of the post. That slice of luck Saints needed just was not on their side.

At the other end, Hoedt cleared off the line from Morata to ensure Saints were just about still in it, but when Austin lashed over from ten yards the game was up.


Head to Head Stats

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Willy Caballero (GK)
Antonio Rüdiger
Gary Cahill (C)
César Azpilicueta
Victor Moses
N'Golo Kanté
Cesc Fàbregas
replace Pedro (76′)
replace Tiemoué Bakayoko (64′)
Eden Hazard
Olivier Giroud goal
replace Álvaro Morata (80′) goal
Álvaro Morata
Ross Barkley
Davide Zappacosta
Andreas Christensen
Tiemoué Bakayoko


Alex McCarthy (GK)
Maya Yoshida yellow card
Wesley Hoedt yellow card
Jan Bednarek
replace Manolo Gabbiadini (78′)
Cédric Soares
Oriol Romeu yellow card
Pierre-Emile Højbjerg
replace Dusan Tadic (63′)
Mario Lemina yellow card
Ryan Bertrand (C)
Charlie Austin
Shane Long
replace Nathan Redmond (63′)
Manolo Gabbiadini
Dusan Tadic
Nathan Redmond
Guido Carrillo
James Ward-Prowse
Sam McQueen
Fraser Forster
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