Monday, May 16, 2005

The long wait is over

For most football fans, the summer months are depressing. What to do with Saturday afternoons (and, thanks to Sky, Saturday lunchtimes and evenings, and Sundays too)?

But yesterday's final whistle at St James's Park was greeted with a sense of relief that, even with the prospect of a shortened summer break due to our involvement in the Intertoto Cup, we've got at least a month without Newcastle playing a competitive match.

A home game with Chelsea brought the curtain down on the season, which has been one to forget but which will no doubt remain long in the memory for all the wrong reasons. But this is a match report, and there'll be plenty of time for reflections on our decline and fall later in the week.

I imagine I wasn't alone in thinking beforehand that the scoreline would depend what mood the visitors were in. If the Champions were up for it despite having nothing to play for, we'd be in line for a thrashing. If they weren't, we might get away with a one or two goal defeat. So a 1-1 draw was actually quite a pleasing result, especially as they'd won their previous nine away encounters in the league.

Not that a draw looked likely early on. Modelling the new home kit, we were sluggish, affording the Blues several opportunities which were spurned by Jiri Jarosik and Joe Cole. Boumsong also got in a vital block to deny in-form bogeyman Eidur Gudjohnsen.

So it was something of a surprise when we took the lead just after the half hour, Milner's corners unsettling the Chelsea defence enough for Geremi to put through his own net with Bramble ready to pounce.

It took the Blues only two minutes to restore parity, though, that man Gudjohnsen pulled to the ground when bearing down on goal by Babayaro, obviously eager to help his former team-mates back into the game. Frank Lampard duly beat Given from the spot.

Shearer, back in the side for the suspended Ameobi, hit a decent free-kick towards the end of the half, but couldn't register his first goal in twelve Premiership appearances and it was all square at the break.

Fired up at the beginning of the second period, we had Chelsea very much on the back foot. Babayaro went close with a shot and Carlo Cudicini made a good stop from a Kluivert header, but we couldn't convert our dominance into another goal.

At the other end Given was called upon to deny Gudjohnsen and Jarosik with splendid saves, but it was us who arguably came closest to snatching the three points when Geremi made amends for his own goal by clearing off the line.

The point meant we equalled our worst ever Premiership points haul, and, as pleasing as avoiding defeat against Chelsea was, results elsewhere - Fulham's thrashing of Norwich and Birmingham's surprise win over Arsenal - dropped us to 14th, our lowest ever finishing position.

All the same, at the end the fans were in remarkably charitable mood (or were they, like me, just relieved?), warmly applauding the players. Robert, who didn't make it onto the pitch from the bench, stripped down to his underwear and threw his kit into the crowd, and has since announced he'll be leaving in the summer. Kluivert, meanwhile, received a similarly enthusiastic response when withdrawn towards the end, to be replaced by Chopra, back from his successful loan spell at Barnsley. All three are expected to depart, but how many other players were making their farewell appearances remains to be seen.

A Chelsea perspective: Chelsea Blog

Other reports: BBC, Guardian


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