Premier League - Chelsea win thriller at Newcastle
A match full to the brim of incident at St James' Park ended in a 3-0 victory for Chelsea over Newcastle in the Premier League, but goals from Didier Drogba, Salomon Kalou and Daniel Sturridge told only a fraction of the story.
Chelsea, looking to ease the pressure on manager Andre Villas-Boas after a run of three defeats in four games in all competitions, should have been reduced to ten men after only five minutes when David Luiz somehow escaped with only a booking after fouling Demba Ba when through on goal.
Frank Lampard then saw a penalty saved by Tim Krul, who was magnificent throughout in the Newcastle goal, but Didier Drogba headed Chelsea in front after 38 minutes when exploiting some slack defending.
In a match that saw the woodwork rattled on five separate occasions, three times by Newcastle, Chelsea had to wait until the 89th minute to finally condemn the Magpies to their first home defeat of the season when Salomon Kalou, on as a substitute, slotted the ball home.
There was still time for Daniel Sturridge to score deep into injury time as he finally beat Krul after being denied time and again by the Dutchman, and the upshot of a wonderfully entertaining contest is that Chelsea go two points ahead of Newcastle and into fourth place.
After an emotional tribute was paid to former Wales manager Gary Speed that left his great friend and Newcastle's assistant boss John Carver in floods of tears, those present at St James' Park, or Sports Direct Arena as Mike Ashley has renamed it, were treated to an absorbing contest.
Indeed, a moment of huge controversy ensued after only five minutes. Yohan Cabaye played in Ba with an expert through-ball and the striker was bundled to ground by the error-prone Luiz. It appeared a certain case of denying a clear goalscoring opportunity, but having given the free-kick, referee Mike Dean mystifyingly only produced a yellow card.
Luiz was incredibly fortunate not to be dismissed but proved an ongoing liability just minutes later when attempting to nutmeg Ba 25 yards from his own goal and being muscled off the ball. Luckily for the Brazilian, John Terry produced a block to deny Cabaye. The blunders were particularly poorly-timed, coming on the day Chelsea put centre-back Alex on the transfer list.
Having survived two difficult moments courtesy of Luiz, Chelsea soon reversed the momentum of the tie by exploiting a glaring vulnerability in the Newcastle side: namely the left side of Peter Lovenkrands and Ryan Taylor.
Sturridge tormented Newcastle, and Taylor in particular, every time he took possession and on 13 minutes won a penalty when cutting in from the right and drawing a foul from Cabaye. Lampard, making his 500th career start for Chelsea, saw his poorly-taken effort tipped onto the post by Krul.
The Dutchman was excelling in the Newcastle goal, as he has done all season, and on 16 minutes got a touch to a rasping effort from Sturridge to turn the ball onto the post as Chelsea were denied once again.
Sturridge was in electric form, shooting just wide from 20 yards before collecting a sumptuous through-ball from Juan Mata after 22 minutes and being denied once again by a save by Krul. The forward then produced a series of stopovers to dazzle Fabricio Coloccini before driving an effort wide, and later produced yet another stunning stop from Krul as he collected a pass from Lampard and fired in a low shot.
Ba was Newcastle's most evident threat and on 24 minutes he produced an unconventional backheeled flick from a Cabaye cross to force Petr Cech into a fine reaction stop. When Ba did beat Cech with a header from another delivery from Cabaye, this time the post denied the Newcastle striker before Terry almost hammered the ball off Luiz and into his own net.
In a breathless, frantic encounter, Newcastle were given pause for thought just before the half-hour mark when Coloccini was forced off due to a thigh problem. Newcastle have used the same back five for all 13 of their league games this season and the introduction of James Perch proved critical as he was culpable for Chelsea's opening goal.
Newcastle were angered that Chelsea were awarded a throw high up the pitch and after Ashley Cole chucked the ball to Mata, who spun and flicked a nice cross into the box, Drogba lost Perch to direct a header into the top corner and out of the reach even of Krul.
Though Newcastle started the second half brightly, they almost conceded a second after 53 minutes when Drogba again proved a menace. This time the Ivorian peeled off Simpson at the far post to chest down a cross from Branislav Ivanovic but thumped his subsequent volley wide of the post when he should have scored.
Still the chances flowed in a fantastic encounter. And on 53 minutes both sides could have scored in a 15-second spell that encapsulated the match as a whole.
First Drogba got a clearing header all wrong from a Cabaye corner and thumped the ball against his own bar. Then Mata sprung a quick-counter attack with a ball out to Sturridge, who hared forwards before playing in Ramires. The Brazilian found himself clear on goal but was denied by a fine save from Krul as the Dutchman got just enough to the low shot to turn it behind.
Though Sturridge was no longer the force of nature he was in the first half, he still picked a glorious pass through the legs of Perch on 72 minutes to release Mata, who stabbed his shot wide of the post from ten yards out. Newcastle responded by going up the other end and seeing substitute Sammy Ameobi have a shot cleared off the line by Terry after brother Shola had put Cech under pressure in the air.
The two Ameobis were in the hunt again on 81 minutes. Shola pulled down a ball over the top and with Luiz standing off, the striker unleashed a fearsome effort that struck the bar from 20 yards. Sammy followed up with a low effort that Cech saved.
Krul made yet another fantastic save to deny Sturridge but on 89 minutes he was beaten for a second time. Torres raced through on goal, only to be caught by Perch, and after sliding a pass to substitute Kalou saw his team-mate slot the ball home.
Having made three substitutions, Newcastle were reduced to ten men when Taylor joined centre-back partner Coloccini in the treatment room in injury time. The home side's numerical inferiority was exploited in injury time when Sturridge converted his eight chance of the match, checking inside Sammy Ameobi before placing his effort into the far corner.