Monday, May 08, 2006

Seventh sealed

Newcastle 1 - 0 Chelsea

A stunning volley by Titus Bramble was enough to earn us a thoroughly deserved victory over the Premiership champions on Sunday, and guarantee seventh place in the league, and a place in next season's Intertoto Cup.

Before the game had even started, Chelsea lost goalkeeper (and captain) Carlo Cudicini to an ankle injury, meaning they started the game with third choice keeper Lenny Pidgeley in goal, and only four subs on the bench. Newcastle were without striker Michael Owen, but boosted by the return of Emre to the midfield, with Matty Pattison dropping to the bench to accommodate him.

A bumper crowd of 52,309 packed St James' Park for the last home game of the season, and with every hope that Newcastle might beat a strong Chelsea side packed with international players.

Despite some robust tackling from Chelsea, Newcastle started brightly, and looked to test the nervy youngster in the Chelsea goal, with both Emre and Nobby firing shots just wide of the post. Unfortunately, from one such moment of attacking play, Nobby went up for a spectacular volley, and when he landed on the ground, Ricardo Carvalho landed on his ankle - and the Peruvian's season ended with a wave from the stretcher which bore him from the pitch.

Instead of replacing one midfielder with another, Glenn Roeder opted to bring on Jean-Alain Boumsong, and switch to a 5-4-1 formation, with Chopra moving out to the right. Shorn of Solano's creativity, we started to struggle to create chances, and consequently allowed Chelsea to see a bit more of the ball, although thankfully Given was alert to save a shot from Duff when he got in behind our defence.

Nil-nil at half time looked a decent score, particularly when the half time score from Bolton came through, however a nagging feeling left me thinking that we still hadn't forced the keeper to make a save, and his hairiest moments came from two Chelsea backpasses which Chopra had almost succeeded in closing down.

Ever decisive, Mourinho removed Huth and Duff and half time, and introduced Shaun Wright-Phillips and Carlton Cole in the hope that they'd give Chelsea more purpose going forward. This shift allowed Joe Cole to adopt a floating role in midfield, and as Chelsea began to press in the second half, much of their good work came through Cole.

One such moment led to Robben breaking down our left, only for Babayaro to catch his heels. Perhaps slightly fortuitously, Babayaro escaped with a yellow card. Mourinho was convinced that it should have been a red, but in truth Moore looked in a decent position to cover the run.

Minutes later, Chelsea had the ball in the back of the net twice, the first saw William Gallas rightly ruled offside, and the second saw Wright-Phillips miles offside after Maniche had hit the post.

With news that Bolton were leading against Birmingham, it was imperative that we not only re-asserted our authority but also pushed for a goal. Seemingly, N'Zogbia took the burden upon himself, and forced a corner following a typical driving run into the Chelsea penalty area. Emre's corner was headed back across goal by Amady Faye, and Titus Bramble acrobatically volleyed the ball into the back of the net to give us the lead, and put us in pole position to claim seventh.

Less than two minutes later, and we managed to shoot ourselves in the foot (although in truth Mavis Riley played his part). Stephen Carr, of all people, was chasing a ball down our left wing, and his harrying of Lassana Diarra caused the Chelsea player to fall to the ground. Carr looked to follow in for the ball, but, in the eyes of the referee and a handful of whinging Chelsea players, kicked Diarra. Replays suggest he made barely any contact with the player, but Riley still produced the red card, and left us to play out the last fifteen minutes with only ten men.

At which point, the atmosphere became electric. The crowd roared their support, and in one of the best atmospheres I've heard at St James' for ages carried the team home. The niggling Carvalho left the field bloodied after a clash of heads with Boumsong, and Clark replaced Chopra to give us some fresh legs in midfield as we clung on.

The final whistle was greeted with a massive cheer, from broadly the same crowd who booed Robson's team which finished fifth two years ago. The reason for the different outlook: Souness.

Thankfully, we can now put this season behind us, and look forward to next year, when once again we grace the Intertoto Cup with our presence. Thankfully, with only one two-legged tie to play we should hopefully have enough to make our way into the UEFA Cup proper and make progress in that competition.

A Chelsea fan's perspective (mainly a preview): Chelsea Blog

Other reports: BBC, Guardian


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