ENGLISH PREMIER LEAGUE
LONDON • Substitute Olivier Giroud revealed that he urged Chelsea team-mate Eden Hazard not to give up against Southampton before the duo combined to complete a 3-2 comeback win at Southampton yesterday.
The Blues kept their slim hopes of playing Champions League football next season alive as Giroud inspired an eight-minute turnaround from 0-2 down at St Mary's Stadium.
Dusan Tadic and debutant Jan Bednarek put Southampton in position to record a first home win in the Premier League since November. But Giroud's first league goals for Chelsea either side of Hazard's equaliser provisionally cut the gap on Liverpool and Tottenham in the top-four race to seven points.
Liverpool and Spurs were set to face Bournemouth and Manchester City respectively later yesterday.
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Liverpool v Bournemouth Late kick-off
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"In football, you always have a chance to step up, to bounce back, so we showed great character and team spirit," Giroud told Sky Sports.
"I said when I came on to Eden Hazard, we need to fight to the end (and) keep believing.
"As long as it is mathematically possible, we will believe we can reach the top four."
The France striker halved the deficit when he headed Marcos Alonso's cross home. And he put the visitors in front when he pounced on a loose ball inside the area to drive into the bottom corner. But Southampton felt that Alonso should have been sent off in the first half for raking his studs down Shane Long's calf.
"I've seen Marcos Alonso's tackle on Shane Long again - it's a clear red card and clear intent to hurt," said Saints manager Mark Hughes.
Defeat is another body blow to Southampton's chances of avoiding relegation as they remain rooted in the bottom three.
The two sides will meet again in the FA Cup semi-finals next weekend, and Southampton will do well to raise themselves for Cup glory, with their place in the league next season looking ever more shaky.
"We got ourselves into a great position... But, as has been the case all year, apparently we've got a soft underbelly," added Hughes.
While Chelsea managed to eke out a win, the outgoing champions' fall from grace was reflected in the shortlist for the Professional Footballers' Association Player of the Year award that was announced yesterday.
Blues midfielder N'Golo Kante was the winner last season. This term, no Chelsea player made the six-man list.
The nominees are City's Kevin de Bruyne, Leroy Sane and David Silva; Reds forward Mohamed Salah, Spurs striker Harry Kane; and Manchester United goalkeeper David de Gea.