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Chelsea 2 - 1 Newcastle


BlueLion.

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Chelsea FC 2 - 1 Newcastle United

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Premier League, 29 December, 15:00 KO, Stamford Bridge, London

Michael Essien and Salomon Kalou both netted to earn Chelsea a crucial win as the Premier League title race took yet another twist.

Chelsea are now six points behind Arsenal, the current league leaders, after their North London rivals earned a brilliant 1-4 away win at Everton. And with Manchester United losing 2-1 at West Ham thanks to Matt Upson's headed winner four minutes from time, Chelsea narrowed the gap between themselves and the Premier League champions to four points.

But the game was not easy for Chelsea, who were looking less than convincing on home soil in light of injuries and suspension. In fact, with seven senior players out either injured or banned - including the likes of Petr Cech, John Terry, Frank Lampard, Andrei Shevchenko and Didier Drogba - and several others out in the short-term, it was no surprise to see a mostly second string side take to the pitch at Stamford Bridge.

A frustrating encounter, Chelsea saw the better of the first half as Michael Essien put them a goal to the good, but a galvanised Newcastle side put the Blues under huge pressure in the second period with Wayne Bridge bundling the ball across his own goal line. Kalou netted the winner in controversial circumstances, as the young Ivorian was obviously offside from Claudio Pizarro's flicked assist. Nevertheless the goal stood and Chelsea earned three points after a fractious 90 minutes against a struggling Toon side.

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Michael Ballack and Michael Essien celebrate the Ghanaian's opener.

But it was Chelsea who took an early hold on the game as they looked to make it 73 league matches unbeaten at their fortress of a stadium Stamford Bridge. A flurry of chances fell the way of the FA Cup holders, but not before both sides endured a nervous and cautious start to the game. With Chelsea dropping two points at home to Aston Villa just three days earlier and Newcastle falling to defeat away to Wigan Athletic, the defensive nature of the game was expected as Avram Grant had fielded his side in a 4-5-1 formation, to give some aid to a backline who had never played with each other before.

But it was Shay Given who took the accolades for a fantastic first half display as he blocked Kalou's search for an early opener. The striker aimed for Given's near post but the Newcastle and Republic of Ireland goalkeeper parried the ball away to safety. But Chelsea were relentless, and could have been three up by the time Given had made his third save of the match. First saving Alex’s header on the goal line, the shot stopper reacted fantastically to claw away Mikel's deflected header. In reflection, whilst Mikel's effort was deflected, Alex would have been disappointed to have headed the ball into the goalkeeper's welcoming arms.

With just twenty minutes played, Newcastle were showing the same sort of defensive frailties that had cost them so dearly in games past. However, it was the simplest of long throws which came to Newcastle's early undoing. The ball fell kindly to Wright-Phillips who powered strike fell to Salomon Kalou. With Given already diving, Kalou nudged the ball to the feet of Essien who beat Steven Taylor to the ball before steering home with the Newcastle 'keeper stranded and helpless. It was the breakthrough Chelsea craved and was the starting pistol for a barrage of attacks.

Wright-Phillips' pull back on 37 minutes was behind Joe Cole and the same player wasted a glorious opportunity just minutes later. Joe Cole's glorious back stick cross found Wright-Phillips but the diminutive figure of the England winger failed to connect with the ball as Chelsea were frustrated further. Despite having the lead, they knew they would pay for their missed chances eventually.

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Wayne Bridge looks on as he nets an own goal to give Newcastle a lifeline.

The second half began as the first ended, with Chelsea dominating both play and possession. However Newcastle were fighting bravely and their spirit was epitomised in several last ditch clearances in the penalty area. They were beginning to get a foothold in the game as their defence came to grips with the natural width employed by Avram Grant's side and their counter attacks were starting to catch Chelsea cold. But for all their hard work, errors by their own personnel lead to more chances for Chelsea, but the best opportunity of the opening period of the second half fell to a Newcastle player, albeit shooting at the wrong goal. Nicky Butt stole the ball from Wright-Phillips but the momentum of his challenge lead to the player miskicking the ball goalwards. However Given made a comfortable save look better than it was as he tipped the ball over the bar.

But there was a sting in the tail as and'Zogbia's cross from the by-line was turned into his own net by Bridge. The Chelsea full-back was under extensive pressure from Nicky Butt, and his miskicked clearance saw the ball trickle across the line. Cue silence at Stamford Bridge.

Given was proving to be a mighty barrier to breach as he prevented Kalou's header from going in. Michael Ballack wasted the best opportunity of the half when Kalou's cut back found him unmarked from twenty yards. The German went for the side footed finish rather than his trademark hammered shot, and the ball found its way into the gloves of Given. The acting Chelsea captain was clearly angry at his inability to earn Chelsea all three points as news began to filter in that West Ham were beating Manchester United by two goals to one.

However fortune favoured the bold, and as Chelsea poured forward looking for a winner, they eventually got their reward. Mikel's shot was brilliantly flicked on off the heel of Pizarro and fell to Kalou. The Ivorian took a touch before finishing with the outside of his boot. There would be many complaints but the goal stood, despite the player being in a clearly offside position. Damien Duff could have rescued a point against his former club but Juliano Belletti's clearance ensured Chelsea hung on to claim the win.

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Salomon Kalou nets the controversial winning goal for the West London team.

______________________________________

Match Fact : Newcastle scored their first goal against Chelsea in over 18 months, although it was a Chelsea player who netted their goal at Stamford Bridge.

Chelsea: Hilario (7), Belletti (6), Alex (6), Ben-Haim (5), Bridge (6), Essien (8), Obi (7), Ballack (7) (Sinclair (6)), Wright-Phillips (6) (Sidwell (6)), Joe Cole (6) (Pizarro (6)), Kalou (7)

Subs Not Used: Taylor, Ferreira.

Booked: Alex.

Goals: Essien 29, Kalou 87.

Newcastle: Given (9), Beye (5), Taylor (6), Cacapa (4), and'Zogbia (7), Milner (5), Butt (6), Faye (6), Smith (6) (Rozehnal (6)), Duff (6) (Viduka (6)), Martins (7) (Owen (5)).

Subs Not Used: Harper, Emre.

Booked: Faye, Given.

Goals: Bridge OG 56.

Attendance: 41,751

Referee: Mike Riley

Man of the Match : Shay Given

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Edited by BlueLion
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