There were 30 seconds left when John Terry arrived at the far post to crash a Geremi shot off the post, a sign if ever there was one that any luck we were riding earlier in the season has completely deserted Chelsea.
A pulsating match was won by a brilliant Alan Shearer goal shortly after half time and a magnificent Joe Cole performance — his best in a blue short — was wasted.
Let it be said right away that Ranieri picked a decent starting lineup and his substitutions were rational. In fact, one subsitution holds long-term significance because Desailly was replaced by Robert Huth with 20 minutes to go for tactical reasons. Which is a nice way of saying that Desailly was often all at sea against a vigorous Newcastle front line of Shearer and Shola Ameobi.
This was a day when our usually steady defence was pressured all along the back line and yet our forwards, prompted by Cole and, in the first half, Frank Lampard, showed a marvellous array of skills to tear through the barcodes defence.
It looked like a sign of things to come when Cole brought the ball in from the left wing, laid it off to Lampard and raced through the middle. A brilliantly weighted pass by Lampard left Cole through on Given and a shot through the goalie’s legs gave Chelsea the early lead and Cole his first league goal for us.
For the next half hour, Newcastle controlled much of the ball without getting near Ambrosio, while Chelsea seemed to break through at will, with Cole and Lampard at the centre of everything good. Hernan Crespo failed to control a long ball from Lapard with Given at his mercy and Bridge blazed over from a good position after being set free by Lampard with blue shirts waiting in the middle.
The pattern of speedy Chelsea counter-attacks and ineffective Newcastle possession was broken on 24 minutes when Ambrose fired in a great shot from 30 yards and Ambrosio athletically tipped the ball over the bar.
Another great move allowed Cole to break in again on the left and with the goal at his mercy he rolled his shot inches wide of the far post. A bad miss, but one that became depressingly familiar.
The blue shorts were running free on the wings and Geremi was guilty of shooting at a defender when a pull back would surely have resulted in a goal.
Close to half time, you just wondered whether we were back to our familiar tricks of failing to kill off the game with a second goal.
Robert served a warning when he cut in from the right and fired a low left-foot shot that Ambrosio saved well at his near post.
Still, it was a surprise when Ameobi received a long ball in front of Desailly, shrugged off the defender and turned to fire an unstoppable shot past Ambrosio.
There was still time for Bridge to break into the box unchallenged and dismally fail to pull it back to a queue of waiting blue shorts.
The half-time whistle soon sounded and while we could have had a three or four-goal lead, we still had it all to do.
Within three minutes of the restart, we were behind as Shearer created space between himself and Desailly and fired a swerving shot from 25 years into the far corner with Ambrosio not bothering to move.
With the Newcastle crowd roaring, we wobbled, but the chances were still flowing and Joe Cole lost his marker for the umpteenth time to chip a beautiful cross to Gudjohnsen whose point-blank header was brilliantly clawed away by Given.
Even with Lampard being marked out of the game by Speed, Cole kept up his sparkling play and you felt an equaliser would come — if we didn’t concede another first.
Shearer and Ameobi were causing us more problems in the middle than we have seen all season and even Ambrose on the right was looking dangerous against a tentative Bridge. A miss hit cross from the touchline by Ambrose almost went in when Ambrosio completely misjudged the flight and then another mixup in the Chelsea box saw a close-range Shearer shot just bundled wide of the post by Ambrosio.
With 20 minutes to go, Hasselbaink came on for Crespo and Huth replaced Desailly. The defence switch worked wonders and Newcastle never looked really dangerous again. The attacking switch would have looked brilliant if JFH had bulleted a Melchiot cross into goal instead of five yards over the bar from a great position.
Two minutes later Lampard headed inches wide after great work by Geremi and when Woodgate went off with a thigh injury a minute later, you felt Newcastle’s defence would collapse.
It didn’t because they did a good job of keeping the ball away from Chelsea. Then came a Huth moment that suggest the German has a lot of John Terry in him. He picked up the ball on the edge of our area and rolled forward, brushing aside Newcastle challenges, before releasing Cole on the left. A great cross arrived in the penalty at the same time as Huth, but the big defender’s head went agonizingly past the post.
And that was it, until the last minute of added time when Terry, who should have scored, smacked the ball off the post.