Monday, February 04, 2013

Sisso-KO blow for Chelsea

Newcastle Utd 3 - 2 Chelsea

Well, we haven't had many afternoons like that this season - though in truth few teams do.

There seems to be something about the first weekend in February that brings out the best in us. Two years ago we staged that remarkable comeback against Arsenal. On Saturday, we again improbably clawed our back from a deficit, though this time went on to win, and against the European champions too. At the heart of it all was Moussa Sissoko, making the sort of home debut that dreams are made of. And not even Demba Ba's return to St James' Park could spoil the occasion.

In light of Tuesday's vital 2-1 triumph at fellow strugglers Aston Villa, the Silver Fox justifiably selected the same starting XI, though two further members of our French contingent - Sylvain Marveaux and Obertan Kenobi - were available on the bench. For his part, Rafa Benitez named Ba as Chelsea's lone striker.

In truth, it proved to be a good time to be taking on the west Londoners, who still looked to be suffering a hangover from chucking away a lead by allowing Reading supersub Adam Le Fondre to plunder a couple of late goals (we know how that feels...). We soon got about them, with Papiss Cisse our biggest threat. Twice he was foiled by good low saves from Petr Cech; on the first occasion, he was being rapidly closed down by defenders, but on the second - free, central and about 12 yards out - he really should have found the net.

It was a sufficiently dramatic game to be able to lay claim to not one but several critical turning points, and the first arrived just after the half-hour. Ba streaked away towards goal with Sideshow Bob in hot pursuit, and when his initial shot was parried by Tim Krul, he reacted quickest to follow up with a header which bounced just wide of the post. In doing so he received a boot in the face from his former captain - a bloodied nose quite literally - and spent some time on the sidelines being patched up.

Predictably, Benitez moaned afterwards that the challenge constituted dangerous play in a goalscoring situation and so should have resulted in both a penalty and a red card. While the latter wouldn't have been justified - Sideshow Bob's eyes were clearly firmly on the ball - we were fortunate that Howard Webb didn't point to the spot. Still, it all evens out - remember David Luiz getting away with that cynical scything foul on a black-and-white-shirted Ba in the corresponding fixture last season, which the visitors went on to win 3-0? Indeed, shortly before this incident Ramires could have received more than just a caution for an ugly tackle.

Ba's injury unsettled both the player - he gingerly ducked under a high ball soon after returning to the fray -  and his new team, and we were able to capitalise. Dreamboat floated a delicious pass out to Davide Santon on the left, who wasted little time in whipping in a cross which was flick-headed in by Spidermag, of all people. A tremendous leap and finish from a player who has been out of sorts for much of this season (though not alone in that) but who showed endeavour and application throughout. As we celebrated, a miserable Ba was withdrawn, with Fernando Torres on in his place, and we went into the half-time interval with a deserved lead.

However, such is the quality of Chelsea's individual players that we knew the second half would be a sterner test - and sure enough, by the hour mark we were shellshocked to find ourselves behind. First Frank Lampard benefited from a lax Dreamboat challenge and walloped in a stunning long-ranger, and then the Blues' player of the season Juan Mata curled into the top corner from Torres' lay-off. Krul didn't stand a chance with either, and - with hindsight, safe in the knowledge that we still went on to get the win - you have to concede they were breathtaking finishes.

It could have got worse had Cisse not been punished more severely for doing what most of us would like to do and grabbing Ashley Cole by the throat in the aftermath of Mata's goal. Thankfully, though, he avoided banishment to the sidelines to join his Senegalese team-mate, and, unlike when Reading seized the lead in January, the big crowd - our second largest of the season - rightly kept the faith, roaring the side on rather than sinking into despondency.

The players responded in kind - and one player in particular. Cisse did well to lay the ball into Goofy's path and the striker sprinted away towards the box. When his left-footed shot was parried by Cech, Sissoko was on hand to bury the rebound. Just as those in blue seemed to be tiring, the former Toulouse midfielder found extra reserves of energy. For his next tricks, he galloped onto a punted clearance, leaving Cole floundering and firing in a shot that Cech tipped behind for a corner, and then popped up on the left, turning Gary Cahill inside out before poking a shot straight at the Czech stopper.

Sissoko wasn't to be denied that dream home debut, though, and when Santon pulled the ball back to the edge of the area in the last minute, he rifled in a crisp low shot to send players, bench and stands into raptures.

The Silver Fox granted him the standing ovation he deserved, withdrawing him for MYM a minute into stoppage time. The victory was only assured by another instance of Saylor putting everything on the line for the cause, though, this time blocking Lampard's shot with his unmentionables. Chelsea's laughable appeals for handball fell on deaf ears - and soon afterwards ears all around were deafened by the reaction to Webb's final whistle.

So, back-to-back league wins for the first time since last April to celebrate and a new hero to worship. One of the things that impressed me most was that, although Sissoko's arrival has (unexpectedly) meant Dreamboat dropping into a deeper role, the latter was no less excellent - it's not as though accommodating one necessarily means sacrificing the effectiveness of the other, as was the case with Ba and Cisse.

Results elsewhere were generally kind, too. Wigan got a late goal to ensure the draw with Southampton that suited us, while 'Appy 'Arry's QPR missed a penalty against Norwich to record their second 0-0 at home in a week and Everton's Marouane Fellaini did us a big favour by frustrating Villa, who had led 3-1 at Goodison Park. It was unfortunate that Reading continued their good form, but even that 2-1 victory gave a modicum of satisfaction as it came against the Mackems.

Spurs away next, then, just over a year since they thrashed us 5-0. Returning to the north east with anything to show for the trip will be tough, particularly with Gareth Bale in such electrifying form in his new central attacking role (Perchinho will need to be on his game) - but with the January acquisitions have come renewed enthusiasm, belief and confidence. Suddenly it's not such a bad thing being a Newcastle fan again.

A Chelsea fan's perspective: We Ain't Got No History

Other reports: BBC, Guardian

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