There are some people who will say it's a bad thing to score early when trying to pull an upset in soccer, as it gives the favorite more time to regroup and refocus.
That certainly seemed the case for Southampton in Saturday's third-round FA Cup match with Chelsea. The Saints played well in the first 30 minutes and took a 1-0 lead before Chelsea took control and with a convincing 5-1 win at St. Mary's Stadium.
Rafael Benitez's side was able to able to run rampant down the wings, especially the left wing, where Jack Cork was playing right-back instead of his usual midfield role, since Nathaniel Clyne was still out of action with a knee injury.
Nigel Adkins gave some indications that he may not have had victory 100 percent in his mind when Gaston Ramirez was left out of the lineup completely with a dead leg, and Rickie Lambert was given a spot on the bench.
Demba Ba made his debut for Chelsea, being inserted straight into the starting lineup by Benitez, leaving Fernando Torres to stew on the bench. Benitez definitely started a stronger side than what Chelsea deployed in their home midweek loss to Queens Park Rangers.
The first 20 minutes were fairly even without many chances for either side. Then Jay Rodriguez put Southampton up 1-0 in the 22nd minute with a delightful side-foot finish to the far post past stand-in Chelsea keeper Ross Turnbull. The shot was set up with a good diagonal pass from Jason Puncheon.
Eden Hazard took advantage of some loose Southampton defending in the 26th minute, when he collected a bad clearance and put a curling effort just wide of Artur Boruc's far post.
Chelsea evened the game at 1-1 in the 35th minute with an incisive move. Jack Cork got caught pinching forward in a challenge and left a ton of space open on the left wing.
The Blues would capitalize as Hazard streaked into the space and found Juan Mata in the area. Mata tried to chip Boruc, but the Polish international keeper got a piece of the shot. But Demba Ba was there to steer in the rebound, fighting off Southampton's Steven Davis.
After the equalizer, the game really opened up and momentum went Chelsea's way. Chelsea had a chance to go ahead in the 39th minute, when Victor Moses had a blast from 15 yards that was awkwardly turned away by Boruc for a Chelsea corner.
A minute later, Cesar Azpilicueta unleashed a long-range effort that Boruc bobbled before finally controlling.
Chelsea took the lead right before the half when Ashley Cole was allowed to pick out Moses inside the area. Moses controlled and unleashed a half-volley that found the far-side netting, leaving Boruc no chance to stop the blast.
"I thought we started the game very brightly, but the goal just before half time was not what we needed." Nigel Adkins said on Southampton's twitter account after the match.
The Blues started the second half brightly and put the game out of reach in the 53rd minute when Mata picked out Branislav Ivanovic with a cross. Ivanovic was left unchallenged in the air and headed the ball home past Boruc.
Insult was added to injury in the 61st minute, as Chelsea went 4-1 up. In an in-vain effort to prevent Ba's second goal of the match, Jose Fonte made a sliding, stretching challenge to block Ba's effort, but he appeared to do the splits and had to be stretchered off the pitch with an apparent knee injury.
Southampton were denied a consolation goal in the 71st minute when Guly Do Prado's cross found substitute Steve De Ridder on the top of the six, but De Ridder's shot hit Turnbull right in the chest. The rebound found Steven Davis, but his strike hit Turnbull, who was still lying on the ground from the first save.
Ba was denied his hat-trick when Moses found Ba on a delightful cross to the back post. Ba got up above substitute Jos Hooiveld, who came on for the injured Fonte and headed the ball into Boruc's feet as the Saints' keeper had done well to get into position.
In the long term, Is an early cup exit good for Southampton?
Referee Mike Dean wasn't in a sympathetic mood either. In the 83rd minute, Dean judged Steven Davis to have handled the ball in the penalty area and awarded a penalty kick. The decision appeared to be incorrect on replay, as a second look showed the ball hit Davis' chest, not hand. Frank Lampard converted the penalty to provide the final scoreline at 5-1.
The result means there will be a replay in 10 days' time—not for an FA Cup replay, but for the rescheduled Premier League match between the two sides. The Dec. 15 fixture at Stamford Bridge was postponed due to Chelsea's participation in the FIFA Club World Cup.
With Fonte now added to an injury list, which already included captain Adam Lallana, Clyne and Ramirez, Southampton may have to go shopping for reinforcements to fill the gaps and add depth to the side.
The blessing is that the early Cup exit will reduce the wear and tear on the Saints as the season progresses.