Thursday, December 14, 2006

No disgrace

Chelsea 1 - 0 Newcastle Utd

A display of dogged-determination and passion was not quite enough to have Jose Mourinho spluttering with rage last night, but it meant that Newcastle could justifiably leave Chelsea with their heads held high, having kept the reigning Champions at bay for over 70 minutes.

The goal, when it came, was somewhat fortuitous, Shevchenko's scuffed shot falling to Drogba six yards out, who made no mistake in slotting the ball home. By that stage though, Newcastle could have been in front, with Sibierski's header hitting the bar following a Milner cross, and keeper Hilario in the Chelsea goal generally looking shaky.

Frustratingly, we were unable to put any consistent pressure on the home goal, but in truth our performance deserved a great many plaudits. As a team we stood up to Chelsea, with Paul Huntingdon (making his first start for the club) settling in well at right back after a few nervy moments early on.

With the injury toll having mounted after Saturday's match, it was a rather makeshift side which took the field, with Rossi playing down the left wing, and N'Zogbia in the centre. Sadly the Frenchman was unable to see out the first half, having sustained what is reported to be medial ligament damage in the first half, with Matty Pattison coming on to replace him.

Despite this further injury, Newcastle continued to battle - and in the first half the side was more than a match for a Chelsea side which was arguably weakened by Mourinho's decision to rest Shevchenko, Makelele and Drogba who all started on the bench. Having said that, any team with Essien, Lampard and Ballack in midfield is hardly struggling for class and it required a good performance from Newcastle to match them (and go closest to scoring) for the first 45 minutes.

Mourinho's decision to bring on Makelele and Drogba at half time gave the home team greater impetus, with Robben and Drogba in particular combining well. Slowly, Chelsea began to create chances, only to either put them wide, or fail to beat Shay Given. That was until Shevchenko's scuff in the 74th minute, the Ukrainian having come on to the pitch minutes before.

Even following the goal, Newcastle refused to buckle, and smart work by Shay meant that our goal difference didn't take the pounding which some feared it might, and ensured we left with a respectable (if still disappointing) result. The loss of the Zog is a big blow, and it remains to be seen how long he is out for.

Hopefully, we can continue to take heart from a strong showing on a ground where better Newcastle teams have been thrashed in recent seasons, and look to press on against Watford on Saturday. The fact that Roeder (who celebrated his 51st birthday yesterday) was in the team when last we won at Stamford Bridge speaks volumes for the mountain which we faced yesterday, but it was a challenge we nearly met, and a performance from which we should hopefully take heart.

A Chelsea fan's view: Chelsea Blog

Other reports: BBC, Guardian


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