Who on Earth could possibly come up with the daft — no, totally crazy — idea of playing Mario Stanic as a left back? I think that we should make every effort to find out, because after the performance he put in today, I want that guy’s lottery numbers. He was everywhere, tackling, running forward, taking players on, getting players booked and just looking like an outstanding player. So my man of the match award can only go to one man.
Games against the Geordies tend to be tight affairs. In fact, with a couple of exceptions, all of our matches against them in the Premiership have been either drawn or settled by the odd goal. That changed in some style today. There would be some who would say that our performance against Blackburn on Wednesday was our best of the season. Well, I reckon that record lasted until today. We were better than Newcastle in every single department and totally deserved both the result and our first clean sheet of the season.
We started with Eidur and the on-fire Franco up front, and at times seemed to cut through the Geordies’ defence like the proverbial hot knife through butter. A glorious cross from Zenden gave De Lucas a gilt-edged chance to open the scoring, but he managed to hit it straight at Given. Newcastle’s relief was to be short-lived though. Just short of the quarter-hour mark, that man Stanic brought down an excellent cross field ball and ran at a couple of Magpie defenders before laying it back for Zenden to hit a pin-point cross to Eidur, who headed the ball in off the post to put us one up.
Newcastle did improve after that, but failed to create any meaningful chances. In fact, I do not remember Carlo having to make one stop. Much of the credit for this must go to the midfield pairing of Morris and Lampard — who look like they are forging a very strong partnership together in the centre — and, of course, Gallas and Desailly. The comment has been made many times that our captain seems to pick and choose the games that he performs well in. If that is the case, then this season he has picked every single one. Between them they snuffed out virtually every single threat from the other side and, where they did not, the two Marios finished the job for them.
After 26 minutes, a throw in from Stanic was headed on by Eidur and Zola was brought down just outside the box by Gary Speed, who got a booking for his trouble. It was ready made for the magic man to score his fifth goal of the season from the free kick, when his effort hit Speed, of all people, to leave Given helpless. In a season such as this you cannot say game over at 2-0, especially as the Geordies came back from such a scoreline against the Scousers only a couple of weeks ago, but it felt a whole lot more comfortable than the games against either the Gooners or the Mancs.
The second half saw Newcastle once again restricted to no more than a few half chances, the best of which came when Alan ‘Elbows’ Shearer hit his effort from a cross over the bar. We always looked likely to score another and put the game to bed, and when we did it came in slightly bizarre circumstances. I rate Shay Given highly, probably second only to Carlo in the Premiership, and was reading in the paper only this morning that he thought he had made only one mistake in the whole of last season — when allowing Bolo’s speculative shot to squirm under him in the same fixture last term — and he wanted to lay that ghost to rest today. Sadly for him, he improved on his mess up. Given had the ball passed back to him and had ample time to clear it. He delayed, under pressure from Zola, and finally passed it out wide to Hughes, who was straight away closed down by Zenden. The clearance struck Bolo and fell for Zola to pass across goal for Eidur to knock the ball into a now empty net for his second and our third. Cue chants of: “You might as well go home,” to the Geordies who had not already turned and left.
Match for match, we are now six points ahead of where we were last season, and I am gradually finding my half-empty glass filling with a nice mixture of enthusiasm and expectation. The side is performing as a team. That is not rocket science, but it is something that we have failed to do in recent times. We have a solidity to our side that has been lacking on so many occasions in the past and the exuberance of the ever-youthful Zola seems to be spreading throughout the team. Up to third, a clean sheet, Mario ‘Pele’ Stanic and above Rottenham in the league. This has been a very pleasant Saturday indeed.
Chelsea line-up: Cudicini — Stanic, Desailly, Gallas, Melchiot — Zenden (Keenan, 89), Morris, Lampard, De Lucas — Zola (Gronkjaer, 81), Gudjohnsen (Hasselbaink, 81)
Unused subs: de Goey, Huth