Frosty reception for The Blues!
St James' Park
The scoreline just about tells the tale about a game where two sides were forced into changes, and were probably happy enough to come away with a point. Chelsea because it stopped their losing run, and Newcastle because you'd have snapped someone's hand off if they'd offered you 1-1 at the start of the season.
But in the cold light of day (fecking bitter more like it), we could reflect that this was an opportunity spurned. A chance, when Chelsea were missing some major players and when those on the field at times didn't look like they fancied it, to take all 3 points from a side who normally look upon us as easy prey.
This was always going to be totally different from the Carling Cup surprise down at their place. The big guns were back for both sides. Chelsea's ammunition significantly more dangerous than our's on paper. But as the old saying goes, matches aren't played on paper. In this case, it was a firm, slightly slippy surface and a game played with a backdrop of winter arrived early.
The bad weather had threatened to make the game unplayable with heavy snow and icy conditions. But the early morning confirmation came that the game was to go ahead. You sensed amongst our ranks in the bars around the ground that Chelsea wouldn't fancy it and were there for the taking off the back of three defeats out of four. And as it turned out, for spells in the game that's the way it seemed.
Hughton made some forced changes, replacing the suspended centre half pairing of Williamson and Coloccini with the returning Steven Taylor and Sol Campbell, both making their first Premierships starts for the season. He also brought in Wayne Routledge, while Cheik Tiote returned from suspension. Nolan was left out injured, while Smith dropped to the bench.
Chelsea were missing a host of big names including Carvalho, Terry, Lampard and Essien. And yet Ancelotti still managed to field a side made up entirely of internationals, boasting a midfield of Malouda, Mikel and Ramires. While upfront they had Kalou, Anekla and Drogba. Hardly what you'd call 'struggling' for numbers, on the face of it...
But the new look side in black and white did themselves proud again and give the champions a bit of a scare. Getting at Chelsea from the off, Tiote and Andy Carroll led the charge and put the away side under pressure. And it was that kind of pressure which led to the first goal after six minutes.
Some decent build up play turned into a comedy of errors with the ball ricocheting first off Mikel and then Ameobi, and falling dangerously into their box. With Carroll breathing down his neck, Alex inexplicably failed to notice his advancing keeper and nudged the ball neatly past Cech. Carroll's momentum carried him past the stranded keeper and he turned the ball in from a tight angle to make it 1-0.
The first half was a fairly bright affair with a couple of chances at both ends and the home side playing some encouraging stuff. But Kalou broke black and white hearts with a well worked equaliser, which benefited from an unkind deflection, when his neat turn and shot from close range looked to be heading straight for the diving Krul. A 'Krul' end to an otherwise satisfactory first half display.
And if anything, that goal gave the impetus to the visitors who turned the screw in the second half. Despite some resolute defending from a solid looking back four, sloppy play elsewhere in the Newcastle side invited a prolonged spell of pressure from The Blues.
The introduction of Ranger for Ameobi was perhaps a little late in arriving. The latter frustrating the home side with a lethargic approach to proceedings after a half decent first 15-20 minutes. However, that subsitution coincided with Carroll dropping back in the back four for a 5 minute spell, which seemed to signify what kind of outcome the gaffer would be happy with.
And a combination of good fortune and good defending combined to see out the game, with some near misses for Kalou and Sturridge, while earlier Drogba had a goal disallowed for a blatant handball inside the box.
So plus points were a solid display from a back four playing together for the first time, and a particularly solid defensive display from Enrique. Another formidable display from Tiote who appeared to cover more ground than others put together. He paired quite nicely with Danny Guthrie who struggled at times with the pace of their midfield but was otherwise disciplined and combative and neat and tidy on the ball, if a little wasteful with dead balls.
The two wide men, Routledge and Gutierrez, had equally frustrating games as always. While upfront Carroll once again showed what a bright prospect he is, ironically in front of one of his alleged suitors. Unfortunately, his partner Ameobi had the type of game which has supporters gritting their teeth, with poor control, bad decision making and a disturbing lack of urgency for such an occasion.
But a point from the champions and some dog's abuse for that awful little spiv of theirs at left back, via some creative thinking in Level 7, was enough to send home supporters away satisfied. After the debacle at Bolton last week, and with them potentially playing the wounded animal role, would we have dared hope for much more?