A night of high drama and changing emotions at Stamford Bridge last night eventually ended with the Blues going out of the Carling Cup. At 3-1 down and with only ten men Chelsea looked in a precarious position with half an hour to play but they sensationally fought back to level the scores at three apiece, only to concede again in the dying moments. Whilst the final result was disappointing we can take much pride from the comeback, achieved with a mixture of fringe players and youngsters.
The evening started well for a much-changed Chelsea side, as full debutant Patrick van Aanholt combined well with Gael Kakuta on the left to fire home with his weaker right-foot past Tim Krul’s despairing dive. It was the Dutchman’s first goal in professional football and ironically against the team for whom he played seven games last season. Newcastle highlighted their own attacking intent almost immediately when Sol Campbell headed wide when well-placed from a corner.
Chelsea’s forward play was unsurprisingly detached, with Anelka, Sturridge, Kakuta, Benayoun and Zhirkov struggling to find space and interchange freely. Kakuta, who showed glimpses of his talent throughout the first half, fired in a menacing cross which Krul just got a hand to with Anelka poised to score. That was the last moment of promise for the home side for quite a while; from then until Benayoun’s injury fifteen minutes into the second period the Geordies dominated proceedings.
They levelled on 26 minutes following some comical defending. First Ferguson was allowed time and space to deliver a ball from the left. Then John Terry missed the ball completely before van Aanholt misjudged his attempted clearance – Nile Ranger did the honours at the back post with a sliding finish. It was a disappointing way to concede a first home goal since March 27th, when John Carew had scored in similar fashion. Ranger almost doubled his and his team’s tally for the night immediately but this time it was his turn to find fresh air and not the ball.
Newcastle only had to wait five more minutes before completing the turnaround. Jeffrey Bruma was adjudged to have climbed all over the troublesome Shola Ameobi and from the resulting free-kick Ryan Taylor comfortably beat Ross Turnbull at his near post. Frustratingly Taylor’s free-kick, though well struck, hardly had the precision of Drogba’s at the Emirates last season, and instead went into the net two yards from Turnbull’s left-hand post. He looked disgusted with his own positioning. Ameobi nearly fired in a third immediately after in a chaotic few minutes for Chelsea, but the beaten Bruma and Turnbull were grateful to van Aanholt for clearing off the line.
At the interval Ancelotti replaced the injured Kakuta, victim of a nasty challenge from the carded Taylor, with Kalou and subbed Terry for Alex in a pre-meditated swap. That seemed to change little as Newcastle just added to their advantage. A wayward Paulo Ferreira pass (now captain) found Ameobi and he passed the ball into the corner of the net from the edge of the box; again Turnbull was at fault. When Chelsea suffered two injuries in quick succession, Kalou then Benayoun pulling up in almost identical fashion, the Blues were reduced to ten men in similarly freakish fashion to last year’s game at Blackburn. That time it was Kalou who had to go off injured with three subs made, this time Benayoun was the unfortunate recipient of the Carling curse.
Kalou’s replacement was seventeen-year-old Josh McEachran and his introduction contributed greatly to the balance of power in the game changing. The Blues sensed they had nothing to lose and began pouring forward with the previously imperious Geordies suddenly looking shaky. Ivorian Tiote replaced Taylor at right-back and from then on the Blues tormented Drogba and Kalou’s team-mate. McEachran found van Aanholt and he had far too much pace for Tiote, picking Anelka out well who coolly slotted home. Chelsea were open at the back and both Lovenkrands and Ranger should have done more than finding the Shed Upper when through on goal.
Chelsea kept pressing, however, and with McEachran controlling the midfield and Anelka roaming free up front it seemed only a matter of time. A neat interchange of passes found Alex in the box with his back to goal. Feeling a slight tug the Brazilian went down and after a moment’s hesitation Phil Dowd awarded the spot kick. It was left to Anelka to score the penalty, his first since Moscow, walking two steps before passing it slowly into the bottom corner.
With the game seemingly headed for extra time this thrilling game found space for one more twist. A Newcastle corner was powerfully headed in by the excellent Ameobi and Newcastle had their win. Chelsea looked almost too exhausted with their previous efforts to mount another comeback, and it would have been difficult to see how the Blues would cope in injury time after such a draining game. Nonetheless, this was a performance to take many positives from. The attacking excellence of van Aanholt shone through, and as did the midfield wizardry of McEachran who seemed capable of going past players at will. Anelka was superb as always and led the line well. It was a somewhat naive performance too but Ancelotti can take a lot of pride in his young team’s comeback. It’s a shame they won’t have another Carling Cup game next month to showcase their talents once more.