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Newcastle United 2 - 1 Chelsea
    Petrescu 35

9th January 3:00pm at ST James park


Ruud Gullit's old side faced Kenny Dalglish's old one and the fact that Chelsea won reasonably comfortably could just about be considered a positive point after this performance.  Admittedly, Newcastle had the ball for huge tracts of this game, but, yet again, simply no idea of what to do with it.  Newcastle's whirlwind start and physical approach could not last the entire 90 minutes and so it proved.

Newcastle had by far the better of the early exchanges and could consider themselves a mite unfortunate not to have scored from one of the many half-chances they created. Glass was fouled 35 yards out, Hamann placed the ball and curled a powerful shot around the Chelsea wall to test De Goey.  The big Dutchman punched away, but only as far as Speed whose goalbound snapshot was also blocked in the latter part of a great double save.  A nice attacking move linking Glass and Shearer saw the later tee up Andersson whose shot was chested away by Leboeuf on the line with the crowd appealing in vain for handball.  Then a poor Chelsea clearance fell to Hamann some way out whose first-time volley was hard, low and just off target.   All the early pressure was ours, and despite the crowd sensing a goal, it could not disguise the fact that Newcastle’s chances thus far had been of a speculative nature.

Debutante Domi patrolled the left flank as wing back in a 5-3-2 formation and his overall contribution was encouraging.  He seemed to have an appetite for the fray and he got the crowd on his side with a surgin run from the back, evading four Chelsea defenders before a disappointingly weak shot was scooped up by De Goey.  Gary Speed was the recipient of a Shearer knock down but little looked available for the mercurial Welshman.  He surprised everyone in the ground (including himself I imagins) when he crashed a half-volley off the bar from 25 yards.  Sadly this was his only contribution of note for the duration.

Newcastle had huffed and puffed and failed to blow Chelsea down, and the Blues, whose counter-attacking at pace had given a taste of things to come, drew blood in the 38th minute:  A short pass to Wise set the Psycho Mutant Dwarf scampering down the left and his low centre evaded Vialli but broke to Petrescu on the right.  The Romanian was in acres of space, completely unmarked, and thumped the ball home with ease.

The brief respite that half-time brought gave Newcastle time to partly recharge their batteries and the second half mirrored the first to an extent;  Newcastle buzzed around the park, created a couple of  half-chances and them ran out of both steam and ideas.  Hamann had a free-kick from an inverted position to his first-half effort and this time brought out an even better save from De Goey, who parried the ball behind.  That, sadly, was the last we saw of Newcastle as an attacking force and Chelsea began to turn the screw with some good, fast, counter attacking football, sometimes aided immesurably by th ineptitude of certain Newcaslt players:  Andreas Andersson was fed a pass wide on the right in the Chelsea half and seemed totally bamboozled as to his next move.  Indeed, it took a couple of  touches for him to decide which way he should be going and, tragically, he guessed wrong and steamed back into the Newcastle half followed by a posse of Chelsea midfielders shouting encouragement at him.  Andersson looked up and sent a defence splitting pass through to Zola who ran through and shot straight at Given when either side of him would have done the trick.  Andersson, whose attacking paucity is well documented, is now setting up chances for the opposition. Saha replaced the hapless Swede a couple of minutes later, to the unbridled joy of the crowd.

Given made great blocks from Di Matteo, Wise and Di Matteo again when Chelsea raided the Newcastle half at will.  Late on, a clever pass to Vialli saw the Italian slap-head turn Hughes before firing in an angled shot which went just wide with Given beaten.

What Newcastle lacked in skill, they tried to make up for in effort, which in itself is commendable.  However, such was the gulf in class between these two sides, toil alone was never going to be enough to win this game.  Over the 90 minutes Newcastle did not create one clear cut chance of note, rather a mish-mash of half-chances and "what ifs".  Shearer cut a desperately forlorn figure up front as he got no service to speak of, and in Andersson, a striking partner that makes Rob MacDonald look like van Basten.  Sadly, this team is in need of more than just a little fine tuning judging by the funereal atmosphere on Saturday.  The abortive attempt to sign Ba shows us that Gullit understands this too (as well he should), but the significance of our third straight defeat is an unpalatable truth which is becoming more vivid with each passin game:  another relegation battle is not out of the question.

I heard a remark on the way out of the game to the effect that Chelsea had "stolen" the points from a game we had "dominated for 80 minutes".  He was huge and so I didn't risk a bat in the mouth by telling him what a pile of shite he was talking, but mate, if you're reading this, you're f***ing kidding yourself if you think we dominated this game.

Man of the match:  Shay Given

Newcastle: Given, Domi, Howey, Speed, Hamann, Charvet, Glass, Solano,
Hughes, Andersson, Shearer.
Subs: Harper, Lee, Saha, Barton, Dabizas.

Chelsea: De Goey, Petrescu, Ferrer, Leboeuf, Duberry, Le Saux, Desailly,
Wise, Di Matteo, Zola, Vialli.
Subs: Hitchcock, Goldbaek, Nicholls, Terry, Morris.

Referee: D Gallagher (Banbury)

Match report by John Hunt

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