Sunday, November 28, 2010

Rocky's Arctic role denies Blues

Newcastle Utd 1 - 1 Chelsea

Memories of last weekend's nightmarish defeat to Bolton were banished by a creditable if slightly fortuitous draw against the off-colour champions in freezing conditions - though it was also a case of more points dropped at home.

Mike Williamson and Sideshow Bob were sidelined through suspension, their misdeeds opening the door for Sol Campbell and the transfer-listed Steven Taylor to make their first league starts of the campaign. Cheik Tiote returned from his own sin-binning to give better protection to the fledgling central defensive partnership than Alan Smith had to our first-choice pairing at the Reebok, while injured skipper Kevin Nolan was replaced by Wayne Routledge, Danny Guthrie moving into a more familiar central position.

Sensing the vulnerability of a Chelsea side who went into the fixture off the back of their first consecutive league defeats for more than four years, we attacked with power and purpose from the first whistle and could have been in front barely two minutes in. Taylor's header from a free kick was pawed away by Petr Cech and stand-in captain Big Lad fired his volley into the side netting under pressure.

We didn't have to wait much longer to take the lead, though. Perhaps bamboozled by the festive weather, Alex gifted us a goal, sliding a misjudged backpass past Cech for the alert Rocky to pounce and smash his ninth goal of the season into an empty net from point-blank range.

With Rocky and Big Lad wreaking havoc up front, Chelsea looked seriously unnerved, while Ashley Cole was the subject of vigorous booing and cat calls from the stands - presumably for the way he mistreated Wor Cheryl, as well as for being an intensely dislikeable human being... One challenge in which he quite deliberately left his stud prints on our captain's thigh should, with any justice, result in a retrospective suspension, as has been meted out to our own ASBO and Williamson in recent weeks.

Gradually, though, the visitors regained their composure and quietly started to dominate. Alex's attempt to make amends for his error was foiled by Jose Enrique, who cleared his header off the line, while Didier Drogba's shot was tipped behind by Tim Krul and a couple of slightly iffy penalty-box collisions went unpunished.

Just as it looked as though we'd make it into the dressing room ahead, they found an equaliser. Neat build-up play culminated in Salomon Kalou turning inside Campbell in the box. His shot would have been parried comfortably enough by Krul had it not been diverted off Danny Simpson's toe. Even then, the young Dutchman got a palm to the ball but it still found the bottom corner.

Into the second half, and Chelsea - keen to get back to the top of the league - continued to control possession and with it the game. Drogba was probably the chief threat, bulging the net with a shot on the turn only for it to be ruled out (rightly) for handball. Their best opportunity, though, fell to Kalou, his first effort smothered by Krul and the rebound somehow prodded wide. Substitute Daniel Sturridge, unfortunate to have been dropped after Tuesday's livewire performance against Zilina in the Champions League, also fired wide of the target after Taylor had done well to block his initial shot.

It wasn't all one-way traffic, though. Rocky muscled his way into position to plant a header that Cech saved, and we came even closer when the Czech 'keeper's fisted clearance was volleyed smartly goalwards by Routledge. Of course it would have to be Cole - the man who should have been red-carded - who headed off the line.

In the face of general though not acute Chelsea pressure, Spidermag and particularly Routledge proved useful sources of relief and release - as did Nile Ranger when he replaced Big Lad for the last 15 minutes. A bit more experience and nous and he could have engineered chances on the break to win the game.

As it was, we had to be thankful for the point to Chelsea's lack of conviction in front of goal and a spirited rearguard action. Campbell and Taylor both acquitted themselves well, but it was Enrique who was named man of the match. Despite coming close to conceding a second-half penalty for handball, his tireless tackling and covering interceptions were key.

The result moved us back up into the top half of the table, though yesterday's wins for Wolves and West Ham mean we're now only seven points off the bottom. Next up are West Brom, level on points but with an inferior goal difference that they nevertheless significantly improved with yesterday's 4-1 humiliation of Everton.

Chelsea fans' perspectives: Chelsea Blog, The Chelsea Blog, Chelsea Football Club Blog (generally lots of hand-wringing and woe-is-us, we-ain't-gunna-win-the-Premier-League-guv'nor whingeing...)

Other reports: BBC, Guardian


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