Well the so-called quadruple dream is over (for this season anyway!), but the greater concern is the extent of the injuries we sustained in a match of terrible fortune more than anything. As pre-empted by Mourinho, the FA Cup was the least of his worries with a mammoth tie against Barcelona midweek and the Carling Cup final just days later. Changes were expected and we made seven from the team that battled their way to a victory over Everton, a week earlier.
Even before the start of the match there was a little drama whether the fixture would indeed go ahead. With snow the night before and a flurry of snow around midday it took some work for the ground staff to get the green light from match day referee Mark Halsey. Terry was certainly against any postponement of the match, as it would have resulted in him having his suspension carried to the Carling Cup final, missing the opportunity to win a medal in a match he was certain to start. As it was his suspension was served against Newcastle, but it didn’t stop him from warming up on the pitch before the game. From the distance of the top tier of the Sir John Hall West Corner, he could be seen in a small group playing keep ball games along with Makelele, Watt, Pidgeley, Drogba and Morais. The free moving Drogba certainly is a boost ahead of next week’s games, particularly after a string of injuries.
The first team saw Cudicini return as captain in goal, with Johnson right back and the reassuring presence of Carvalho, even though enforced in light of the suspension of Terry. Midfield included the Champions League cup tied Jarosik, recent scarcely used Smertin and Tiago. Kezman returned upfront with Joe Cole supporting and Geremi keeping an eye along with Johnson on Laurent Robert. All Newcastle fitness doubts were passed fit, including former Blue; Babayaro and it was touted danger man, Robert that caused the early problem and ultimately cost us the match. He crossed the ball in from the left aimed at Kluivert to climb above Gallas and head home after just 3 minutes. This didn’t deter the travelling Chelsea fans who tried to keep the team going, but it has to be noted that we were some way from selling the full 5,000 allocation. In a surprising twist the famed loyal Geordies also struggled to fill out the rest of the ground with a relatively poor attendance of 45,740, compared to the usual in excess of 50,000.
If anyone had any doubts on Kezman’s ability to score then this match did little to change things! This time it was more through bad luck than judgement. Once again Kezman lacked the luck and struck the underside of the bar after nipping in and taking an advantage of a deflected pass from Tiago. Given was well beaten, but it just doesn’t appear to be written in the stars for the luckless Kezman. Unfortunately at this level you have to put these chances away, bad luck or not, if you are to make the standard and we should have been 1-1. The only other half chance in the first 45 minutes was from a long range Jarosik effort that was tipped round the post for a corner. Against the big Newcastle team and without top scoring defender Terry, we never truly threatened as we usually do from our set pieces. Half time and bar the Kezman chance we didn’t look like getting back into this match without making some chances. The horrible northern weather wasn’t helping, a blizzard of snow highlighted by the floodlights and although well covered by the roof of the stand, it was seriously cold!
Second half and three changes by Mourinho straight away, a brave decision and buoyed the fans. Duff, Lampard and Gudjohnsen on for Geremi, Tiago and Cole. As it turned out it was a decision to regret with Bridge picking up a serious injury straight away. Under a challenge from Shearer, Bridge was down for a long time and the dreaded stretcher and leg support was bought on, with Bridge going to the nearest hospital and suffering an expected broken ankle. Kluivert greatly helped the matter by trying to hurry him off the pitch. I’m sure if Kluivert were in the same position he really would have appreciated a Chelsea player being so sportsmanlike to a fellow fallen professional.
Along with the weather it didn’t rain injuries, but snowed. Duff suffered a leg injury becoming a virtual spectator along with the limping Gallas. Already down to 10 men with the exit of Bridge, you would have expected the team to be struggling. Not the case besides the expected occasional breaks from disjointed Newcastle. Chelsea dominated possession and won a number of corners to no avail, but certainly a half to be proud of the team battling against the odds. The second half injuries could have ramifications for the rest of the season.
In a further twist of bad luck deep in to 5 minutes of added time, Ameobi broke free and was upended by Cudicini. Halsey produced the red card and from the distant Chelsea end it appeared inevitable although reports suggest otherwise. Now down to 9 men Johnson took control of the goalkeeper gloves and pulled off a great save from the resulting free kick. Before this incident Johnson was very nearly the villain slicing a clearance dangerously close to his own goal. The sad realisation that Cudicini will miss the Carling Cup final and an opportunity to win a medal hits hard for Chelsea fans, especially in the light of Mourinho’s comments that he would have started. This effectively ends any chance of Cudicini winning a medal bar a Champions League final appearance and victory, although that requires seeing off Barcelona with an injury hit squad.
So out the FA cup, but the fans won’t be too downhearted. Yes it is disappointing, but it allows more focus on the Premiership among the other competitions and the performance in the face of a lot of adversity was very creditable. Special mention to Carvalho on his return who played the whole 90 minutes after a long layoff and incidentally could well face Barcelona on Wednesday. His performance was first class and my man of the match out of the Chelsea players. On to Barcelona and one would hope something a little better than freezing snow!
Score: Newcastle 1 – 0 Chelsea
Newcastle: Given, Carr, Boumsong, Bramble, Babayaro, Dyer (Milner 68), Butt, Jenas, Robert, Shearer (Ameobi 64), Kluivert.
Chelsea: Cudicini, Johnson, Gallas, Carvalho, Bridge, Smertin, Geremi (Lampard 45), Tiago (Gudjohnsen 45), Jarosik, Kezman, Cole (Duff 45).
Referee: Mark Halsey