'I have a squad of great men' - Conte lauds Chelsea toughness in Southampton win

The Blues boss felt his table-topping team showed physical and mental fortitude to overcome the Saints in their bid for Premier League title glory

Antonio Conte praised the character of his Chelsea players after they came through a tough examination against Southampton with a 4-2 win to take them a step closer to the Premier League title.

Eden Hazard fired home his 15th top-flight goal of the season to give the hosts an early lead at Stamford Bridge but Chelsea old boy Oriol Romeu levelled in the 25th minute.

Southampton posed plenty more questions of an uncharacteristically shaky Chelsea for the remainder of the first half but captain Gary Cahill headed them ahead in stoppage time.

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Diego Costa ended his recent goal drought with a second-half brace before Ryan Bertrand was the second Stamford Bridge returnee to get on the scoresheet as his former club extended their lead over Tottenham at the summit to seven points.

"For sure it was a good win and I think I have to be pleased for the great effort from my players," said Conte, who had expressed his unhappiness at the quick turnaround from the FA Cup semi-final win against Spurs on Saturday.

"It wasn't easy to play two-and-a-half days after a tough game against Tottenham and to face this type of team.

"Southampton showed today they are a really good team, very strong with good personality and play good football with good players.

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"We must be pleased for the win. I am pleased for my players because they deserve this win for the great effort they showed me."

Hazard, Costa, Cahill and Cesc Fabregas were all recalled to the starting line-up after Conte rotated boldly at Wembley and he felt his players cast his decisions in a favourable light.

"After two wins it is normal to do this consideration that my decisions were right but it is not easy for the coach in this situation to make these strong choices," he told Sky Sports.

"I must be pleased because I have a squad of great men and great players.

"For sure, to score the second goal at the end of the first half was very important for us. I was confident because I was seeing the team have a great will and a great desire to win."

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During his decorated playing career, Conte saw Juventus both prevail and collapse down the title stretch, and he does not want his players to become fixated on nearest challengers Spurs, who travel to Crystal Palace on Wednesday.

"In this part of the season it is not easy. I was a footballer and I know what happens in every single player," he said.

"It is important for us to look at ourselves. These are the most important things for us. This race will continue until the end of the league and for this reason we must be ready."

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