|photo by jurvetson||via PhotoRee|
St. James Park / Newcastle Upon Tyne, England / November 28
It's a rematch of the League Cup from late September, with only the location having changed, Newcastle hosting Chelsea today at St. James Park. Sol Campbell makes his first Premier League appearance for the home side, whose defense is not exactly at full strength for the match. Regular Captain Kevin Nolan also sits out with a knock, as Shola Ameobi deputzies for the Geordies, who are looking to rise above arch-rival Sunderland in the table. The pitch is a frozen slab of brown, green and white, and if the early bounces are any indication, players on both teams will have significant trouble just keeping control of the ball today.
As if illustrating that fact, there's a misunderstanding between Alex and Petr Cech to open the scoring, the Brazilian defender's back pass escaping the arms of the Chelsea 'keeper, who's rounded by a surprisingly speedy Andy Carroll. The recent England call-up has little work to do to put the home side ahead, the net vacated by Cech, and the goal at his mercy. It's 1-nil Newcastle in the 7th minute, and the crowd which braved the sub-zero temperature is frozen in rapture.
Twenty minutes in and the visitors are beginning to look a bit more dangerous, despite their lack of goals in recent competitions. Chelsea have begun the day in a new 4-4-2 formation, in a bid to gain width through Kalou and Malouda, with Anelka and Drogba playing as co-equals up top. Although the scoreline does not reflect it, the Blues begin to control the ball better after some early wobbliness.There are more miscues by the makeshift Chelsea backline near the 25 minute mark, Ameobi and Carroll ending up on the end of a long cross into the box, but with both strikers making the same run there's no one home to knock the ball in amdist the chaos and carnage that is the Chelsea defense.
The Blues increase the pressure as the game nears thirty minutes completed, and it looks as if it will be a long day for both sets of defenders. Newcastle struggle to gain control of the ball, and sit back rather deeply in their defending. A small flock of pigeons set up in the home side's offensive end, disrupted only by the intermittent appearance of a Magpie or two.
Chelsea show how desperate they've become to get on the scoreboard when Didier Drogba simulates a foul as he attempts to race by the last defender in an effort to tie the game. Referee Andre Marriner is not buying, however, and Drogba's dive goes unrewarded, but also unpunished. It's sad to see Drogba diving, as heretofore I've only accused him of flopping on hard fouls, but not diving in order to get calls. The behavior makes you wonder how much the malaria situation is affecting the big Ivorian's performance.
Cole has a shout for a penalty as the game nears halftime, but once again Marriner waves off the effort. On the stroke of halftime, however, Chelsea's pressure finally pays off as Solomon Kalou puts the ball in the net to equalize the scoreline. The Blues intricate passing game weaves the ball through the Geordie defense, with Malouda passing Kalou into the box before Drogba's countryman slots the ball home off a slight deflection. Ancelotti and his boys look more relieved than pleased as they head into the break on equal footing for the first time since the game's early stages.
The second half begins where the first let off, Chelsea pressuring the ball and having the lion's share of possession. Chelsea's defense plays a much higher line this half, as if daring Newcastle to attack them, but also making it difficult for the home side to keep control of the ball. Although the strategy seems to be succeeding at the moment, this is the same defensive tactic that Sunderland exploited to devastating effect only a a couple of short weeks ago.
The Blues knock the ball around confidently, and seem to find their footing despite the pitch's icy surface. It looks highly unlikely that Newcastle will be able to sit back and absorb all the pressure Chelsea are going to throw at them over the next half hour, and the home side would appear to need a goal just to stay even if they allow the game to continue much longer in this manner.
Cech goes mysteriously on walkabout during a brief stretch of Newcastle resurgence, wandering outside the 18 yard box like a blind man in search of his cane as he attempts to chase a weak knockdown off a free kick. Ashley Cole steps up to the rescue, however, clearing Wayne Routledge's ball off the line, and his awareness in Cech's absence keeps the home side from leading against the overall run of second half play.
Tim Krul denies Branislav Ivanovic from close range to keep the game tied as it heads into the final twenty minutes. The Toon faithful would undoubtedly be standing and cheering their boys on for the home stretch if they weren't frozen to their seats by this point in time. Chelsea press the damn-the-torpedoes button on offense, and a late winner appears imminent as they get the ball achingly close to the goal line, only to be denied repeatedly on the last move by some desperate Geordie defending.
Drogba's winner is waved off as the ball strikes his arm before he turns to rocket it past a stunned Krul. Three minutes later and it's Kalou missing an empty net, coming up all left feet with the goal gaping at his mercy. Ancelotti immediately changes Mikel for Sturridge in a final bid to gain the advantage ten minutes from time.
Sturridge's first touch is agonizingly wide for Chelsea fans, and the tension level is suddenly raised to DEFCON 5 for the home side. The Magpies appear totally sapped of energy at this point, looking like a punch drunk fighter trying hard to avoid the knockout punch in the three minutes added to regulation. Newcastle struggle like a drowning man to keep their head above water, and in the end do just enough to hang on for the draw and the point.
Chelsea's tie means Manchester United move top by themselves for the first time all season, and the Blues find themselves tied with a stubborn Arsenal side that just won't seem to go away.
Game Day Beer Review: Brasserie Dupont Avec Les Bons Voeux Farmhouse Ale (9.0% ABV) . Pours a straw-colored yellow with a three figured white head that leaves behind moderate lacing. Smell is full of earthy, lemony funkiness, with some phenols showing more as the beer warms; this beer is clearly a Belgian by smell alone. Les Bons Voeux tastes of grassy, lemon-filled citrus, with a yeasty, bread-like quality, and just a slight hint of clove, and offers a very clean finish. This is a smooth offering from a favorite Belgian brewer: A-
This is an enraptured farlieonfootie, signing off for for November 30.