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02-04-2013, 10:45 AM
  #123
Stray Wasp
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Join Date: May 2009
Location: Newcastle upon Tyne
Country: United Kingdom
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Typically, no sooner did I accustom myself to watching games in the posh seats, than three successive home fixtures occurred in which my boss didn’t have spare tickets. Ten days ago, Villa away had not yet been played and presumably everyone expected a spanking from the Champions of Yurp. Hence entry to the Chelsea game landed in my lap.

Back in 1987, Newcastle became the first English club of the modern era to sign a Brazilian international. Keen to make Mirandinha feel at home, several fans turned up wearing sombreros. Fortunately, the Geordie nation knows far more about France than South America, so the new crop of players received a more appropriate welcome, to wit, shirts with horizontal blue stripes, false moustaches, berets, plastic onions and tricolours. All that was missing was a cyclist being drugged up to the eyeballs.

With such outpourings of love, how could the players be anything but inspired? Moreover, Eden Hazard had been a bit of an enfant terrible at Swansea, and received zero for conduct following his forbidden games, which reduced the number of scary Chelsea attacking threats to a mere three. Besides, Rafa Benitez is the misanthropist outsider in Chelsea’s dugout and there was a flag in the away end that conveyed the message, “Rafa out.” Maybe he’d bring diabolical luck.

Since Aston Villa are an unholy mixture of an under-23 team, the Keystone Cops and escaped patients from a psychiatric ward, here would be the true test of NUFC’s mettle, one thought. The early signs were very encouraging. Newcastle weren’t just camping in front of their own penalty area. Too often this season you could have closed your eyes and known exactly wherethe Magpies’ front four would be on the field. Now smart movement abounded, even from Cisse, who looked far happier. Useless forward lumps gave way to short passes and a lot of one or two touch play. The pace was nippy and it helped that the little soldier, Cabaye, was on fine form, orchestrating with the ball or harrying Chelsea when they had it. James Perch had his uncomfortable moments, but his sense and work ethic served him well and he gave the defence a useful shield. Coloccini looked more like his old self and he, Santon and Debuchy gave Newcastle a trio of players talented enough to play their way out of danger.

I was surprised to see how far forward Sissoko played and rather than move up and down he seemed to pop up all across the field offering a good option for a pass. He and Gouffran looked as if they’d been playing with their team mates for years. Both showed a willingness to help out defensively too. Gabriel Obertan looks like a very fast man whom someone is trying to teach to play football with limited success, but Gouffran appeared pacy, aggressive, intelligent and blessed with good control. When he came infield, Gouffran added to Chelsea’s problems rather than clog up space.

Newcastle built several useful moves in the first quarter of an hour, but these always foundered at the final ball. Gutierrez wasn’t the only offender, but he was by far the worst. He was, however, working like a Trojan in defence. Significantly, NUFC’s best chances early on occurred following a Chelsea error and a tame long shot that Cisse cut out. Cech saved both and one felt that Cisse really should have scored the first one.

Fifteen minutes in and Lampard lodged Chelsea’s first miss. The chance had been created with alarming ease, Mata finding space deep and at leisure playing in Cole, whose pull back deserved better. Ryan Bertrand’s presence on the left allowed Cole greater freedom to overlap and Bertrand worked hard in the trenches, but his limited attacking use hindered Chelsea.

Still, Chelsea began to flex their muscles. They weren’t dominant by any means, but one feared a goal might be coming. When Demba Ba broke clear, one thought the man lured by the flowers of evil was bound to score. Instead, Krul saved Demba’s first effort and Coloccini, making an honest if desperate attempt to reach the loose rebound, booted Demba in the face. “I accuse,” said Rafa, but Howard Webb was indifferent, as he was when home fans demanded a red for Ramires following a rough challenge on Jonas. The rules of the game…

It amuses me that we have reached a point in football history where fans can say, “Chelsea were doing all right until they had to bring on the bloke who cost 50 million.” Yet Ba’s injury was critically important. Chelsea played for several minutes with ten men while attempts were made to fix Demba and the effort cost them much energy and momentum. (Mind you, the home side played a while with ten men later in the game, when Steve Taylor suffered some facial wounding). Meanwhile, the late Fernando Torres inexorably warmed up, still in search of lost time. When Demba returned to the fray, Cech-the man who wears a cap to protect his own head-showed solidarity by booting a long free kick straight at him. The samurai departed, before he turned into eyes without a face.

So it duly came to pass that the team which had been crossing abysmally scored against Terry and Cahill with a winger’s header. A strange turn of events to be sure, but Jonas’ run was shrewd, the defensive marking wasn’t and Davide Santon’s cross was a corker. Notably, the cross came from rather deeper than hitherto. Santon had already menaced on the overlap, but Chelsea had either crowded him out when he cut inside on his favoured right foot or kept him moving outside on his left. Later, this would not happen.

Half time came and went. Everyone remarked that Newcastle would come out passively at their peril but in fact it seemed as if Pardew had upped the dose of sedatives he puts in his team’s half time tea each week. Newcastle scarcely escaped their own half, Chelsea probed with increasing assurance and Frank Lampard scored an absolute beauty. I then enjoyed the dubious privilege of a perfect view of Mata’s goal, which was even better. “Champions of Europe, we know who we are,” crowed Chelsea’s contingent.

A spell of utter Chelsea dominance followed. Cabaye and Sissoko appeared knackered. In the midfield battle James Perch took the 400 blows. Oscar bored into the area, someone (Debuchy, I think) stuck out a leg, but Oscar played rather than go to ground. (Clearly, foreigners can go against their natural, cheating instincts if you expose them to moral exemplars like John Terry and Ashley Cole). No one thought it would matter. Nor did it seem important that Chelsea players kept hammering excellent chances to kill the game over the bar. That was the great illusion.

Pardew was preparing a substitution. Suddenly, a Chelsea move broke down and their defence was missing any midfield cover, both full backs and John Terry’s brain. Left to fend for itself, Terry’s body perpetrated a suitably heroic lunge that put him on his arse. In an instant, there were only five players in the same half of the field as the ball and three of them were Newcastle’s. I thought, “This must be a goal and if it isn’t, it’s over.”

Newcastle having emerged from the night and fog with an equaliser, the game became turbocharged. The last twenty minutes were like an FA Cup tie, breathless cavalry charges from end-to-end, players making mistakes, either tired or taxed worse than Gerard Depardieu by the demands of the situation. Steven Taylor throwing himself all over the place. Newcastle had found a second wind but Pardew, I felt, was taking a huge risk in having shelved his substitution. Benitez, meanwhile, seemed to have lost control of his players. Visiting teams are supposed to try and keep the SJP crowd quiet. Chelsea were helping nurture the kind of wild-eyed conditions that turns the home fans up to eleven.

Someone seemed to have slipped Sissoko a new set of lungs. When he ran down Ashley Cole and forced a save, everyone looked at each other and went, “holy ****”. Next, Sissoko was turning Cahill inside out and haring in on goal with the relish of a man escaped. Pace and skill and Chelsea weren’t backing up their defence. Marveaux replaced Gouffran; to his fresh legs, clear head and technical quality, Sylvain added a hitherto unseen willingness to regain possession. Benitez stuck to his cards.

Santon and Debuchy had re-emerged as attacking threats. Two chances presented themselves, one from each flank. One ended when Cisse and Sissoko both attacked the near post. Crucially, when Santon made inroads on the left, Sissoko hung back. Lampard was fatally sucked towards his own goal. Sissoko had time and space to pick his shot.

Instantly, the away fans’ instinct was to shoot the pianist. A banner emerged screaming, “Rafa Out-Fact”. I was stunned to see how many Blues fans began to leave immediately, even with four minutes injury time to play. It's not as if they needed to catch the last metro. Rafa doesn’t look healthy and once this season is over he might want to head for the charterhouse of Parma.

Hearts stopped for a second when Chelsea appealed for a penalty but Webb rightly didn’t give it and Newcastle had won by far the best home game of their season to date. The players exulted like the children of paradise; Debuchy and Taylor lapped the field as if they were lifelong friends.

Whilst few of Newcastle’s future opponents will prove as careless as Chelsea, few will score goals of the quality that Lampard and Mata produced. The important thing is not to get carried away, not to lose sight of the work ethic that brought last season’s success and kept the team alive when they were up against it here. When NUFC don’t gift goals to the other team, they get results. Only three points in practical terms, morally this result should work wonders.


Last edited by Stray Wasp: 02-04-2013 at 10:48 AM. Reason: Addition
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