Sometimes you just need to hold your hands up and accept that you’re second best.
That will certainly be the case for Chelsea this afternoon after Southampton came away from Cobham with a 4-2 victory achieved with a first class performance in which they dominated every aspect of the game.
The Blues improved in the second half and a brace from Bobby Devyne threatened to give them hope, but in the end they simply didn’t have enough to win.
Dermot Drummy was missing top goalscorer Philipp Prosenik, who was seen walking around with a slight limp, and instead reverted to a diamond midfield, employing Mesca as a striker alongside Devyne.
George Saville played at centre back, with Reece Loudon at left back and Amin Affane back in midfield after recent experimentation in the back four.
The visitors started in sprightly fashion and pressed the smaller Chelsea high up the pitch in an attempt to take an early advantage with their physical presence.
By no means was this a Southampton team with brawn but lacking brains though. Technically accomplished, they expressed a comfort on the ball and a great team understanding.
They looked useful early on but the best goalmouth action in the opening stages happened at the other end for Chelsea.
First Mesca found himself with a header in the centre of the goal from Kane’s cross, but he could only find the goalkeeper. That was followed by a rampaging break from Devyne, who ran clear onto Jamal Blackman’s long throw, but the Kenyan striker could only nudge the ball wide of the post with Mesca unmarked in support.
The Blues looked uncomfortable in defence, with Saville being caught in possession more than once, whilst not for the first time, Loudon was struggling at left back.
In pre-season, he was exposed by pacy wingers from both Wycombe and Wolves, and it was the case again today. In a diamond midfield he must display the requisite stamina to play up and down the length of the pitch but he was noticeably struggling after a quarter of an hour, and Southampton duly took the lead with a move down his side of the pitch.
Caught out of position, he allowed time and space for a cross to be delivered. It was inch perfect, as was the resulting header from Joe Curtis, which nestled into Blackman’s bottom left hand corner.
The giant goalkeeper was easily his side’s best player and had to be alert to make a pair of instinctive stops in quick succession to prevent a second, but he was merely delaying the inevitable.
The second came close to the half hour mark, and if comparisons can be drawn to the pre-season clash with Wolves for the first, they certainly can again.
A free kick from the right was poorly cleared and allowed a second bite at the cherry. As it came back in, Chelsea pushed up but got the offside trap wrong, allowing Sam Hoskins to take his time in slotting the ball past Blackman with as much time as he wanted.
Chelsea heads had dropped, and with Southampton squeezing the play in midfield, they could do nothing to get going. Danny Stenning was almost anonymous at the tip of the diamond, deprived of space and possession, whilst the back four had their own problems.
Captain Ben Sampayo was next to be bailed out by Blackman as he was beaten for pace down the left despite having a five yard head start, and but for the Chelsea stopper, the scoreline could have been embarrassing.
As it was, a third arrived before half time. Archange Nkumu had a scrambled effort cleared off the line in a rare moment of interest in the Southampton goalmouth but the opposition showed how it should be done, as trialist Matthew Reece (formerly of Fulham) turned the ball past Blackman and in for 3-0.
Changes needed to be made at half time and Drummy duly obliged, introducing schoolboys John Swift and Adam Nditi for the ineffective Stenning and Loudon.
With the personnel available to him, it seemed a strange decision to employ the winger Nditi at full back, but that was the case, as each change was a straight swap.
Whatever the Chelsea manager said in the changing room at the break, it appeared to have an effect, as a newly energised team emerged and won a penalty in the opening five minutes of the second half, albeit one shrouded in controversy.
Mesca chased down a long ball with centre back Arron Racine, and the duo tangled. The Portuguese forward appeared to foul his man before being felled himself, but the referee saw it differently and awarded the spot kick.
Devyne stepped up and stroked a perfect penalty past Jack Dovey and into the corner of the net to kick-start what would hopefully be a comeback.
After Alex Davey replaced Saville at centre-back, Devyne scored a second to bring real life to the game. Swift played a wonderful ball in over the Southampton defenders, holding it up perfectly on the pitch for the forward to knock past the goalkeeper to reduce the deficit to a single goal.
Unfortunately, Swift went from hero to villain in the space of a few minutes, as he conceded the game’s second penalty. As Southampton pounced on a loose ball following a poor free kick, the languid midfielder dived into a tackle inside the box, and got it wrong.
He immediately knew his mistake would be costly, and although Blackman saved his second penalty in successive games, Hoskins was quickly onto his own rebound to steer home and make it 4-2.
The goal took the wind out of Chelsea sails, deflating the momentum which had been built up in the previous fifteen minutes. Devyne – having his best game in recent memory – was leading by example with an impressive work rate, but things were not coming together.
Rodgers sent a swerving effort goalwards from distance which looked tame but needed turning round the post, whilst Swift dribbled through the midfield and saw a shot blocked when a pass was available.
Instead, as the game drew to a close, Blackman once more became the busier goalkeeper, twice denying substitute Jordace Holder-Spooner to keep an air of respectability about the final score.
After such an impressive home record last season – and the defensive security which went with it – Cobham has now seen two defeats from three matches and seven goals conceded in the process.
With three first-year scholars in the back five alongside a player playing out of his regular position, it would have been churlish to expect similar, but the performance was ultimately not up to Chelsea standards.
Southampton played very well and deserve every credit for the approach they took, but this is one the home team will want back. Blackman did himself justice, as did Devyne in the second half, but too many were anonymous and will look back with regret at their performances on this occasion.
Team: Blackman, Sampayo (c), Nkumu, Saville (Davey 60), Loudon (Nditi 45), Rodgers, Affane, Kane, Stenning (Swift 45), Mesca, Devyne
Goals: Devyne ’50 pen, ‘60