Trailing 2-0 at the break to goals from Demba Ba and Eden Hazard, the visitors produced a stirring fightback to record a fine result against the Blues.
The decisions to leave both Rickie Lambert and Gaston Ramirez on the bench at the start of the game was the talking point ahead of kick-off, but by the end of the contest, no-one was left in any doubt that Saints profited from the impact of the duo’s second half arrivals onto the pitch.
Within three minutes of Lambert’s introduction to the action, the striker took his tally to ten goals for the season with a firm header from Nathaniel Clyne’s cross which gave half an hour for Saints to repeat the trick.
Cue Ramirez, who although not all through his own doing, the touch he put on Luke Shaw’s cross meant that the ball bounced up perfectly for Puncheon to hit a screaming drive into the top left corner to earn a dramatic share of the spoils for the visitors.
Chelsea: Cech; Azpilicueta, Cahill, D Luiz, Cole; Ramires, Lampard (Torres 79); Oscar, Mata, Hazard; Ba. Subs (not used): Turnbull, Ferreira, Ivanovic, Terry, Bertrand, Marin.
Saints: Boruc, Clyne, Yoshida, Hooiveld, Shaw, S. Davis (Chaplow 67) Schneiderlin, Cork, Puncheon, Guly (Ramirez 74), Rodriguez (Lambert 55). Subs (not used): K. Davis, Fox, Ward-Prowse, Seaborne.
Referee: Michael Oliver
Nigel Adkins made two changes to the starting line up with both Rickie Lambert and Gaston Ramirez dropped to the bench. Guly and Steven Davis came into the side in their places.
Morgan Schneiderlin skippered the side, with Richard Chaplow welcomed back into the squad and named amongst the substitutes.
Saints got the match underway, defending the end housing the travelling support on a chilly evening in West London.
Backed by a vociferous away support from the corner of the Shed End, Nigel Adkins’ men looked to make the most of the early momentum generated from the stands, with both Rodriguez and Schneiderlin each making early inroads into the Blues’ half.
The visitors enjoyed an early spell of prolonged possession in their opponents’ half which arrived from a Rodriguez challenge on halfway which led to Steven Davis and Puncheon get a chance to probe the Chelsea backline.
Rafa Benitez’s men had their first opportunity on 6 minutes when the ball broke for Oscar on the edge of the area, but the Brazilian’s tame shot drifted harmlessly wide of Artur Boruc’s left post.
Both sides came forward with purpose on the break, and a sublime touch from Demba Ba set Chelsea on their way to their best chance of the opening exchanges, but Cesar Azpilicueta’s wayward shot over the bar didn’t match the neat passing build up from the hosts.
On 16 Puncheon headed Guly’s cross from the left wide as Saints continued to grow into the game, though Yoshida and Boruc delivered a brief nervous moment when the former’s pass back to the ‘keeper almost caught the Pole out as he scrambled to clear the lines.
Chelsea broke the deadlock in the 25th minute when Azpilicueta’s cross was diverted into the path of BA who in one movement swivelled and struck a first time volley into the bottom corner for 1-0.
The goal owed much to the tenacity of Frank Lampard, whose harrying of the Saints defenders created the opening for the hosts.
Adkins’ side responded with a couple of set pieces on the half hour as a corner that followed up a free-kick in Chelsea’s half kept the ball where the visitors wanted it, but Petr Cech remained largely untroubled in the Blues goal.
As play entered the final ten minutes of the half, Rodriguez latched onto Yoshida’s throughball into the area and the forward laid it into the path of Steven Davis, who scuffed a shot narrowly wide of the far post.
Saints had to be on their mettle at the other end with Yoshida throwing himself at Lampard’s shot to deny the England midfielder, who then blasted wide a follow up attempt moments later as the hosts turned the screw.
Boruc athletically denied a combination of Oscar and Hazard in the closing stages of the half but the second Chelsea goal eventually came as the clock ticked onto 45. Ramires’s shot came back off the post, and HAZARD slammed home inside the area to double the advantage heading into the interval.
Half Time: Chelsea 2-0 Saints
There were no changes from either side at the break as the Blues restarted the game looking to protect their lead. They started with a positive intent though as Ashley Cole tested Boruc, before Ba warmed the Pole’s hands with a low cross/shot.
A slow start all round to the new half was epitomised by a wasted set piece from the visitors, with the delivery from Guly on the left evading everyone inside the box as the Blues made a routine clearance.
In an attempt to reignite the forward line Rickie Lambert replaced the hard-working Jay Rodriguez in the 55th minute and three minutes later, Saints were back in the game.
Guly dispossessed the Blues in midfield and the ball was worked out wide to Nathaniel Clyne, whose persistence saw him get away from Cole and he supplied an inch perfect cross for LAMBERT who crashed a header into the top right corner for his 98th career goal with Saints.
Seemingly undeterred by the goal Chelsea went back on the attack, but Oscar’s wild drive over the bar proved that there was still some work to do for the home side before they could think about regaining their two goal advantage.
Saints however, continued to cause Chelsea problems with an expansive game that was unrelenting in its approach as the visitors sensed the whiff of a comeback.
Richard Chaplow was introduced to the action in Saints’ second substitution as he replaced Steven Davis in the 67th minute.
Chelsea played their way back into control with Ba striking a volley over the frame of the goal before Mata won the hosts a free-kick in a dangerous position, which Lampard fired narrowly wide of the left post.
Lambert quickly secured a corner at the other end before Gaston Ramirez came on for Guly with 74 minutes played.
The move paid off instantly. A swift break from Shaw, saw the full back cross the ball into the area via Ramirez, and PUNCHEON slammed home a stunning goal into the top left corner for a deserved equaliser.
Understandably buoyed by their leveller, Southampton pressed the hosts onto the backfoot, which prompted Chelsea to take off Lampard and bring on Fernando Torres for the last eleven minutes or so.
And although the switch appeared to lift the Blues, they were wasteful with the substitute firing wide, something Saints tried to take advantage of moving forward with Ramirez winning a free-kick that saw David Luiz booked.
Chelsea rallied but became more and more frustrated as they struggled to break Saints down again, leaving the visitors to celebrate a point which had looked so unlikely at half time.
Full Time: Chelsea 2-2 Saints