SOUTHAMPTON — Guus Hiddink insists he must be willing to make “very harsh” decisions as Chelsea interim manager after substituting young full-back Baba Rahman at half-time of the Blues’ 2-1 victory over Southampton at St Mary’s.
Rahman’s wayward header allowed Shane Long to race clear and give Southampton a 1-0 lead in the 42nd minute and Hiddink responded by replacing the 21-year-old with Kenedy at the interval.
A much-improved Chelsea equalised on 75 minutes when Cesc Fabregas’ cross drifted beyond Fraser Forster and stand-in captain Branislav Ivanovic met a Willian corner with a powerful header to complete the visitors’ comeback in the final minutes.
After the match Hiddink admitted that Rahman’s confidence may be affected by his substitution but insisted that his decision had been vindicated by Chelsea’s greater defensive solidity after the break.
“I could say he was injured but he was just taken off because of that,” Hiddink said of Rahman.
“I don’t like to personalise it but we have in the recent past also had problems in the defensive execution in that part of our team. I could wait and wait but sometimes you have to take decisions that can be very harsh.
“We’ll have to cope with [potential confidence issues] and Kenedy did his job very well when he came in.”
“We didn’t start very well and they were dominant in the first 20 minutes and there was some threat, although not big chances from their side, but I thought we took it over and controlled latter part of first half.
“We gave them a present in the first half [with Rahman’s header], a big present, but the team reacted very well. Not just in the mental part to be hurt by the setback, but also in the attacking part we maintained our composure and tried to maintain as soon as possible possession of the ball, which the team did.
“Then you can wait on the equaliser [from Fabregas] and we’re happy this corner was perfectly executed by Ivanovic.”
Chelsea suffered an early blow when winger Pedro Rodriguez was forced to leave the field with a hamstring injury after just seven minutes.
Hiddink does not know how long the Spaniard will be sidelined for but believes he remains in contention for the Blues’ Champions League round of 16 second-leg clash with Paris Saint-Germain on March 9.
“Pedro got a little problem with his hamstrings, so we’ll see,” the Dutchman added. “We have a tight schedule.
“He might be fit at that time [for the PSG match] but I don’t know whether he’s fit for the Everton game [in the FA Cup quarterfinal three days later].”
Southampton boss Ronald Koeman, meanwhile, identified his team’s inability to keep the ball in the second half as the main reason for Chelsea’s comeback.
“If you’re leading in the game and you play a good first half, score the 1-0 at a good moment before half-time, you have good defending — it’s not easy to score against Southampton — then you have a good feeling to win the game,” he said.
“But we realise that we played against a good team, a better team than it was at the beginning of the season, with very good players.
“You need to be perfect in the second half and we weren’t because we lost more balls, we didn’t have the ball possession we had in the first half and then you have to drop back too much. But still they didn’t create open chances.
“I think we deserved more for our performance but sometimes you get more than you deserve and sometimes that’s football.”