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Newcastle 0-2 Chelsea


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Newcastle United 0-2 Chelsea F.C.

Saturday 4 April 2009, Premier League, Saint James' Park, Newcastle

MaloudavsNewcastle.jpg
Florent Malouda expertly fires beyond Steve Harper to seal victory for the visitors.

Alan Shearer's Newcastle homecoming ended in defeat as Chelsea dispatched the Magpies with a convincing display at Saint James' Park.


The result throws the Toon into further peril at the bottom of the table, and with fellow strugglers Stoke City and Blackburn Rovers picking up vital wins, Shearer's task of guiding the club away from relegation now looks even more difficult - especially with influential winger Peter Lovenkrands being stretchered off with several broken ribs.

For the Blues, however, the result is a pleasing one, especially with fourth-placed Arsenal beating Manchester City 2-0 at the Emirates. Yossi Benayoun's last-gasp winner for Liverpool means that Chelsea still trail the Merseyside club by three points and now lead the Premier League, but a win for champions Manchester United against Aston Villa on Sunday would see them return to the summit in the race for the title.

With Shearer returning, Newcastle were suddenly full of self-belief and there was much talk of the former England striker inspiring his team to victory against Guus Hiddink's team. The mood inside Saint James' Park was jubilant, but the game failed to live up to its promise - but this worked to the advantage of a much-changed Chelsea side.

Branislav Ivanovic was drafted in at right-back in place of the injured Jose Bosingwa, and Alex played alongside John Terry in the centre of the defence. Didier Drogba was out with injury but Nicolas Anelka was fit again after a brief spell on the sidelines. Michael Ballack was dropped in favour of John Mikel Obi, despite the German international scoring two fantastic goals whilst on international duty over the past week. Florent Malouda and Salomon Kalou started out wide.

In truth, the first half was a somewhat disappointing display from both teams, with Newcastle conservative when in possession of the ball and Chelsea lacklustre going forward. The cauldron of noise generated by the hopeful Geordie faithful failed to galvanise their heroes early on as Chelsea stood firm whenever the hosts ventured forward. There was, however, new-found tenacity and bite in the home players, as shown when Nicky Butt left Michael Essien requiring treatment on his ankle.

Newcastle had a number of fruitless corners in the opening exchanges, and were failing to work Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech. Jonas Gutierrez volleyed widely over early on and in reply Kalou and Malouda fashioned an opening on the flank, only to see the Ivorian fail to pick out a player in blue as he crossed.

The best chance of the first half fell to Kalou, who saw his diving header from an Ashley Cole cross palmed away by Steve Harper in the Newcastle goal, whilst Obafemi Martins failed to react in time to convert a low cross from Jose Enrique for the home side. Chances were proving to be few and far between, and with both midfields unable to seize control of the game, the first half petered out into a dull, boring contest, with the only other notable chance seeing Anelka's effort deflected wide.

The 'Shearer Effect' had been quelled but the performance was lacking in an attacking sense. Whilst Cech was relatively untroubled, the midfield triumvirate of Lampard, Essien and Mikel were all subdued, leaving the front three isolated and ineffective. But from their professional performance in the second half, it was clear for all to see that the 'Hiddink Factor' still remains as the Blues began the second period with all guns blazing.

An early corner was won and Essien lashed over from Malouda's delivery, before the Frenchman himself - one of Chelsea's better performers - fired goalwards, only to see his right-footed attempt from an acute angle blocked by Harper's body. The Blues were looking far more dangerous in the early part of the second half, but still lacked the cutting edge up front. Anelka headed straight into Harper's arms from 15 yards, before Martins responded for the hosts by firing narrowly over with Alex and Terry attempting to charge him down.

However the Blues took a deserved lead when Frank Lampard headed home after Anelka's effort had deflected into the crossbar with Harper rushing out to meet him. Unmarked, and three yards from goal, the England midfielder wasted no time in nodding the ball home. The Chelsea celebrations were ecstatic and Saint James' Park was silent but for a tiny pocket of travelling supports. Michael Ballack came on after 55 minutes for Essien, who was taken off ahead of the Blues' trip to Anfield on Tuesday.

The game was over nine minutes later as Malouda netted his fifth goal of the season. Cech's kick up-field was flicked on to Lampard by Anelka, and the Chelsea number 8 threaded the ball through to the winger, who shot beyond Harper in clinical fashion. The points were Chelsea's, yet there was still time left to add further goals to what had been a much-improved performance since the interval. In response, Michael Owen tested Cech on 74 minutes but the Czech international was not to be beaten, although a bizarre almost-own-goal nearly offered the Toon a route back into the game, but Owen's cross that cannoned off Mikel was judged not to be over the line as Ashley Cole cleared, although replays suggest otherwise.

Franco di Santo came on for Anelka and his curling effort from 20 yards was deflected inches wide of the goal. Ballack shot straight at Harper and the Newcastle keeper did well to save from Kalou with his legs after the Ivorian had beaten the offside trap and found himself one-on-one.

But the day was to be Chelsea's, as the Blues played out the final minutes in relatively comfortable fashion. A winning start to a season-defining month is always welcome, but with Anfield our next port of call, it is not this victory at Saint James' Park that Chelsea fans will remember come May, but it is certainly a significant step in the right direction.

___________________________________________________________________

The TalkChelsea.net Man of the Match award goes to...

Ivanovic.jpg

Branislav Ivanovic, Chelsea

Chelsea: Cech; Alex, Terry ©, A Cole; Essien (Ballack), Mikel, Lampard; Kalou, Anelka (Di Santo), Malouda

Newcastle: Harper; R Taylor, Beye, Coloccini, José Enrique; Gutierrez, Nolan (Guthrie), Butt, Lovenkrands (Duff); Owen ©, Martins (Carroll)

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