Newcastle United 1 Chelsea 1
THE temperature might not have risen into positive figures, but it is to their credit that, faced with the reigning Premier League champions at a snowlined St James’ Park, Newcastle United refused to freeze.
Coming off the back of last weekend’s 5-1 trouncing at Bolton, and shorn of four senior players thanks to a combination of injury and suspension, Chelsea were probably the last side the Magpies wanted to see given that they had failed to even score against the Londoners in their last three meetings on Tyneside.
But after club officials worked through the night to ensure the wintry weather would not result in a postponement, Newcastle’s players put in an effective shift of their own to ensure the snow-clearing efforts were not in vain.
Andy Carroll’s ninth goal of the season provided a perfect start, with the newly-capped England international capitalising on a catastrophic error at the heart of the Chelsea defence to open the scoring, before going on to dominate in the air for the rest of the afternoon.
Salomon Kalou’s 45th-minute equaliser ensured Newcastle’s winless run would extend to four Premier League matches, but save for a close-range opportunity that Kalou somehow fired into the side netting with ten minutes left, the visitors rarely looked like claiming what would have been only their second victory in the last five games.
Indeed, while Newcastle’s second-half attacking was rather more sporadic than the persistent pressure they exerted before the break, the hosts would have claimed a notable victory had Ashley Cole not produced a fantastic headed clearance from Wayne Routledge’s stinging goal-bound shot.
Routledge justified his recall to the right of midfield with a number of positive runs, but it was Newcastle’s two returning centre-halves that deserve much of the credit for a result that is every bit as praiseworthy as September’s memorable Carling Cup win at Stamford Bridge.
Steven Taylor and Sol Campbell both made their first Premier League start of the season in the absence of suspended duo Fabricio Coloccini and Mike Williamson, and despite facing a Chelsea side effectively boasting four strikers, the pair more than justified manager Chris Hughton’s faith in their abilities.
Campbell, in particular, made a string of important interventions, and while he will have been somewhat disappointed to have been turned in the build up to Kalou’s equaliser, the veteran can be justly satisfied with his first league start in a Newcastle shirt.
With Jose Enrique also performing strongly at left-back, and Cheik Tiote holding things together effectively at the heart of midfield, the hosts were rarely outplayed.
Prior to kick-off, much had been written about Newcastle’s enforced defensive reshuffle, but rather less had been mentioned about the continued absence of Chelsea skipper John Terry.
The England international has been sidelined for the best part of a month with a leg injury and, in his absence, neither Branislav Ivanovic nor Alex has offered the kind of security and assurance that Terry provides. And it took the Magpies just six minutes to add to Chelsea’s defensive troubles.
Routledge’s through ball for Carroll was over-hit, enabling Alex to steal in ahead of the Newcastle number nine. His prodded back-pass to Petr Cech was nervous, though, and paid no attention whatsoever to the positioning of the Chelsea goalkeeper.
The ball passed a yard to Cech’s left, and Carroll simply continued his run to roll home from no more than two yards.
Any side looking to beat Chelsea requires a modicum of luck – without really trying, Newcastle had been gifted an ideal start.
They still had to build on it though, and for much of an entertaining first half, the hosts continued to cause problems to the deposed Premier League leaders.
Routledge, in particular, caught the eye, restored to the right of midfield for the first time in nine games and rediscovering much of the pace and direct running that made him such a threat to Championship defences last season.
Yet for all that they continued to carry an attacking threat, it always felt as though Newcastle’s propensity to defend on the edge of their own 18-yard box would prove costly in the end.
That it ultimately took Chelsea 39 minutes to equalise was down in no small part to the performances of Campbell, whose enduring positional excellence enabled him to make a series of crucial blocks, and Taylor, who matched the physical Drogba blow for blow.
Tim Krul helped a Drogba shot into the side-netting, and Enrique had to be at his most alert to hack Alex’s header off the line after the Brazilian had risen effectively to meet Florent Malouda’s corner, but Newcastle’s resistance finally ended on the stroke of half-time. While there was an element of fortune to Chelsea’s equaliser, the balance of play meant it was hard to claim it was undeserved.
Drogba supplied Kalou in the box, and after the Ivory Coast international twisted inside Campbell to create a shooting position, his low shot beat Krul with the aid of a deflection off Simpson’s boot.
Chelsea started the second half brightly, and Krul had to be at his most alert to thwart Drogba’s low shot. Carroll forced Cech into a routine save as he rose effortlessly to meet Routledge’s cross, but the Chelsea goalkeeper almost handed Newcastle a second goal in the 62nd minute.
His punch from Enrique’s left-wing cross landed at the feet of Routledge, who calmly dispatched a stinging shot towards goal. Cole was perfectly positioned to block it, but the speed of the winger’s strike meant his subsequent header was still deserving of praise.
Perhaps predictably, Chelsea spent the majority of the second half on the front foot, but while Krul made routine saves from Ivanovic and Nicolas Anelka, the visitors did not really look like scoring until Kalou wasted a glaring opportunity with ten minutes left.
A brilliant piece of chest control enabled the striker to trap Anelka’s cross and glide past the covering Taylor, but with a prone Krul committed, his shot flew into the side netting.
1-0: Carroll (6, prodded home from close range after Alex rolled dreadful back-pass past Cech)
1-1: Kalou (45, turned past Campbell and fired home with the aid of a deflection off Simpson’s boot)
Bookings: Ramires (23, foul); Guthrie (90, foul)
Referee: Andre Marriner (Birmingham) – Kept control of things well and wasn’t taken in by some of Chelsea’s more theatrical tumbling 6
NEWCASTLE UNITED (4-4-2):
7 Krul: Made impressive second-half saves from Ivanovic, Anelka and Drogba and remained calm and composed throughout
6 Simpson: Won his private battle with the normally dangerous Malouda and held his position well
7 Campbell: Impressed on his first league start, with a series of blocks and tackles making up for his failure in the build up to the goal
7 S Taylor: Linked up with Campbell effectively and won a series of important headers against an ineffective Drogba
8 Enrique: Defended superbly throughout, with his pace and positioning constantly keeping him out of trouble
7 Routledge: Troubled the Chelsea back four and would have scored had Cole not produced a superb clearing header
8 TIOTE: Controlled the heart of midfield from first minute and past and barely conceded possession
6 Guthrie: Justified his recall and is a much better player at the heart of midfield than stuck on the right flank
5 Gutierrez: Sparked into life sporadically, but spent too much time protecting his defence on the back foot 7 Carroll: His goal had an element of fortune about it, but it accompanied another barnstorming attacking display
6 Ameobi: Always a handful for the Chelsea defence, but never really found himself in a goalscoring position
Ranger (for Ameobi 77)
(not used): Soderberg (gk), Perch, Kadar, Smith, Best, Lovenkrands
CHELSEA (4-3-3): Cech 6; Bosingwa 5, Ivanovic 6, Alex 4, COLE 7; Ramires 5, Mikel 5 (Sturridge 80), Malouda 5; Kalou 7, Drogba 6, Anelka 5. Subs (not used): Turnbull (gk), Ferreira, van Aanholt, Bruma, McEachran, Kakuta.
MAN OF THE MATCH
CHEIK Tiote – Another calm and composed display from a player who is surely one of the signings of the season.