Newcastle kept themselves in the hunt for Champions League football, with a very impressive victory at a damp Stamford Bridge on Wednesday night. The away side were seeking revenge for a 3-0 defeat earlier in the year, when it would be fair to say a baffling decision from Mike Dean, cost Newcastle dear.
A performance of courage and determination, combined with 2 moments of genius from the current wearer of the number nine shirt, was enough for the visitors to take all 3 points.
A resurgent Chelsea
Prior to this, Chelsea had only suffered the 1 league defeat, away at Manchester City, since Roberto Di Matteo replaced Andre Villas-Boas, with the former midfielder put in temporary charge until the end of the season. They had become solid at the back once again, with key players returning to form in all areas of the pitch.
Even 50 million pound man Fernando Torres had started to score again. 4 goals in 2 games for the Spaniard, a fine weeks work for a man, who by mid-March, had scored less goals in 2012 than Tim Howard.
Sunday had seen a thumping 6-1 home win over relegation threatened QPR, and the fixture prior to that had seen one of the great rearguard performances, as a draw at the Nou Camp, or Camp Nou if you prefer, had seen them go through to face Bayern Munich in the Champions League final a week after our season ends.
With a very disappointing 4-0 defeat away at Wigan on Saturday doing damage to our hopes of finishing in 4th place, a response was needed from the players. Whilst Pardew did try to take much of the blame for the result, he will still have been disappointed with the lack of energy and sharpness we showed compared to the opposition at the DW Stadium.
He is clearly a great man manager, and is brilliant at getting the very best out of his players. Danny Simpson was an absentee from the previous fixture, with James Perch slotting in at right back, a man whose recent performances have encapsulated everything that is great about this side under Alan Pardew.
He scores when he wants
We were at our best right from the off, closing Chelsea down when not in possession, and looking dangerous going forward. Cabaye and Tiote were at their best in midfield, nullifying the threat the Londoners posed, Cisse, Ba and Ben Arfa, energetic in attack, and our back four calm and composed, answering any questions that were asked with the minimum of fuss.
Newcastle created chances throughout the night, with Demba Ba coming so close to ending his goal drought, with a thunderous effort that came crashing back of the crossbar towards the end of the second half.
It was Cisse who once again stole the show, with 2 moments of genius, taking his total to 13 goals in 12 games since arriving on Tyneside. They were the sort of efforts you would expect a striker to make when in such a rich vein of form. The first, a sublime effort, a lovely ball from Santon, to Cisse, who flicked it up using his right foot, and then lashed it home with his left, sending the away fans into a frenzy.
If the first was sublime, it’s hard to find a work to describe the second goal. Outrageous? It was just to even attempt it, from just inside the touchline, with the outside of his right boot, bending in the far corner, over a beaten Petr Cech. A once in a lifetime sort of strike. You might say if he was to attempt it again it wouldn’t come off, but this boy is something special, and it wouldn’t surprise anyone if he did something similar the next time he takes to the pitch.
It’s hard to remember someone arriving in the Premier League and making such an impact. Long may it continue.
A real team effort
Whilst it will be Cisse who will attract the plaudits and the man of the match awards, there were 10 others who were just as important in the victory. Every tackle was made with 100% commitment, every ball chased down and a body thrown in front of a shot or cross when required.
Williamson and Colocinni were outstanding at centre half, winning everything in the air, Santon impressed once again, and Perch did another great job when asked. I don’t know if it was out of position, because I’m still not sure what his position is, I don’t know if he is, or Pardew for that matter. What I do know, is that he will give absolutely everything for the cause, what he lacks in talent, he makes up for with determination and energy.
For me, it’s been one of the great bits about this season. To have a player who was written off by all, except his teammates and his manager, come back into the first team picture, and put in some of the performances he has, and to almost have cult status as Perchinio, is brilliant, and says a lot about the mental strength that he has.
Chelsea did threaten, but not frequently, 5 more attempts than us in total, they had 17, we had 12, but they hit the target with the same number as us, John Terry had a header cleared off the line, but it was for the most part a quiet night for Tim Krul. A lot of efforts on goal were wasted, most missing the target, or failing to really test the Dutch born stopper.
2-0 didn’t flatter us, it was fully deserved, there were some nervy minutes late on, until we got that essential second goal. They just shaded possession, 52% to 48%, but that stat will have been more in our favour, prior to the last 25 or so minutes where they saw far more of the ball.
Di Matteo chose this game to rest key players, with Mata, Lampard and Drogba all starting on the bench, although it would have been hard to select the latter over Torres, given his trio of goals on Sunday. Yet make no mistake about it, this was still a strong Chelsea side. Even when the aforementioned players came off the bench later on, they had little impact, such was the solidity in the Newcastle defence.
It seems Tiote will be fine, after suffering what looked like it could have been a serious injury, stretchered off with a neck brace on. A rather large gash on the head is the injury, and he’ll play on Sunday. Some reports suggested the aggressor should have seen red, others didn’t even mention it.
2 cup finals for us both
For them it’s literal, for us it’s one of the oldest footballing clichés, like “if you don’t shoot you don’t score” or “Michael Owen is injured” but it’s true.
The next two games are massive. Most had written us off after the weekend, and given the run of games we had, I suppose you could see why. However, this win has put us right back in the mix again. Level on points with Tottenham, and now only 1 behind Arsenal, our inferior goal difference may come back to haunt us, and we will require those above us to slip up. I can’t see it honesty, I think Spurs have got some momentum behind them again.
If at the start of the season though, someone had told me we’d be in the position of 5th, with 2 games to go, and still in with a chance of Champions League football, I’d have got the men it white coats to come and take you away.
Just a quick word about Chelsea
I’m sure this will attract some criticism, but if it does become the case that result in Munich on the 19th of May has no impact on us, then I would love to see them win it.
Obviously if we need them to lose for our own gain, I’ll be a Bayern fan for 90 minutes, but I think it’s great to see English clubs succeed in Europe. They deserve it purely for that truly brilliant performance against Barcelona, when no one in the footballing world had given them a chance of going through.
I’d also much rather see them win the FA Cup this coming weekend. In years gone by it would of been Liverpool, a club I used to have a lot of time for, I would have been supporting, but I have no time for Dalglish, and the Suarez affair was a disgrace. The Chelsea fans I encountered last night were very gracious in defeat, with handshakes and applause towards those of us in the away end. Good on them. A quote from one of them “I can’t complain about losing a game of football, with 2 goals as good as those”.
Di Matteo resting players last night, and hoping for Champions League football through winning the competition, is a gamble, one which might pay off, fair play if it does, but I can’t see them winning in Munich. Then again, what do I know, I thought we were going to really struggle this season.
A thank you to finish
To Pardew, those lads who pulled on the black and white shirt yesterday, and those of you in the away end, for providing me with the greatest birthday I’ve had in my 26 years. Epic. I had an immense amount of pride in that club, as we stood their singing for 90 minutes. People talk about our support being a bit special, on nights like this one, it really was.
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