The return of Alan Shearer to Newcastle United in a managerial capacity could not lift the Geordies out of the bottom three, as Guus Hiddink’s Chelsea eventually strolled to a 2-0 win at St. James’ Park. Second half goals from Frank Lampard and Florent Malouda were enough for a victory that saw enough energy conserved for the trip to Anfield in midweek.
Jose Bosingwa was injured on international duty, so having been left out in the cold for most of this season, Branislav Ivanovic was chosen at right back, preferred to Juliano Belletti and Michael Mancienne. John Obi Mikel returned after two games out in the holding role, with Michael Ballack on the subs bench. Up front, Didier Drogba was out injured, so Anelka was joined by Malouda and Kalou in a fluid front three.
The opening exchanges were tense, as Shearer strode the touchline in his grey suit, flanked by his new assistant Iain Dowie. Hiddink as ever was looking sharp, though the same could not be said for his Chelsea side.
After 18 minutes the first chance of the game fell to Salomon Kalou, the Ivorian winger seeing his header saved by the impressive Steve Harper in the Newcastle goal. Newcastle were able to conjure up some set piece opportunities, however they weren’t of the quality to truly put pressure on Petr Cech’s goal.
After 37 minutes, referee Rob Styles produced one of his more bemusing decisions of the match, booking Frank Lampard for diving – sorry, “simulation” – despite the Chelsea midfielder being under pressure from two Newcastle players. Just before half time, Danish winger Peter Lovenkrands went down injured for some time, apparently having difficulty breathing after a blow to the ribs. He was stretchered off whilst being supplied with oxygen, Chelsea old boy Damien Duff his replacement. In stoppage time, Mikel joined Lampard in the book after cutting down the lively Jonas Gutierrez.
Chelsea started the second stanza far more convincingly, Essien at the heart of a couple of productive attacking moves, the last of which saw Harper smother a Malouda shot at the near post. However, there was nothing Harper could do in the 55th minute, as Chelsea took the lead.
Anelka was slipped through by Lampard, and from a tight angle saw his shot deflected onto the crossbar. It dropped perfectly for Lampard, who stooped to nod the ball into the bottom corner, leaving him just three goals short of his customary 20 for the season.
Essien, visibly tired, was replaced by Ballack immediately afterwards. Nine minutes later, Chelsea doubled the lead.
Cech launched a long ball forward, which was flicked on by Anelka. Lampard picked up the loose ball and slipped it to Malouda, who fired a confident left footed finish past the onrushing Harper. There was no way back now for Newcastle, even with Shearer’s inspiration.
With the game wrapped up, Anelka was replaced by Franco di Santo, as Hiddink turned one eye towards the upcoming Champions League tie. Danny Guthrie replaced Kevin Nolan in the Newcastle midfield.
With 18 minutes remaining, Ashley Cole cleared a twice deflected Michael Owen shot off the line, with replays suggesting that it was indeed a goal. It mattered little though, as Newcastle lacked any real threat for the remainder of the match.
Andy Carroll was introduced for the ineffective Obafemi Martins, not long before Franco di Santo ended a nice run with a shot just wide from the edge of the box. Shortly beforehand, Ballack connected sweetly with a left footed strike on the edge of the box, though it was straight at Steve Harper. The Newcastle veteran was outstanding throughout, exemplified by his injury time save from the anonymous Kalou. Ballack’s inch perfect ball sent the Ivorian through on goal, only for Harper to make a tremendous save one on one.
Nonetheless, the win was attained at a canter for Hiddink’s men, as our attentions turn to the massive Champions League tie at Anfield in midweek. The return of Drogba and Carvalho should aid Chelsea, who have traditionally struggled against our Scouse rivals in European competition, saved for Avram Grant’s historic win last season. Now it’s down to Hiddink to keep the dream alive.
Newcastle (4-4-2) Harper; R Taylor, Beye, José Enrique, Coloccini; Gutierrez, Nolan (Guthrie 68), Butt, Lovenkrands (Duff 44); Owen (c), Martins (Carroll 80).
Unused subs: Forster, Gérémi, Edgar, Smith.
Manager: Alan Shearer
Chelsea (4-3-3) Cech; Ivanovic, Alex, Terry (c), A Cole; Essien (Ballack 56), Mikel, Lampard; Kalou, Anelka (Di Santo 67), Malouda.
Unused subs: Hilario, Mancienne, Carvalho, Belletti, Deco.
Coach: Guus Hiddink
Referee Rob Styles