WITH a 15-year-old on Chelsea’s bench, what might otherwise have been a run-of-the-mill League Cup tie always promised to be an anorak’s dream.
But by the final whistle it was another statistic people were rifling through the record books for. And a pulsating third-round tie was anything but run-of-the-mill.
Not since 1986 have Newcastle United come away from what was then a much more decrepit Stamford Bridge with a win. Five of yesterday’s team were not born then.
A quarter of the way through the game, the record looked pretty safe, but inspired by two-goal Shola Ameobi they snatched it in circumstances as dramatic as they were impressive.
Granted, this was a Chelsea team unrecognisable from the one which has rampaged through the last six months, but it was a scarcely-seen Ameobi too, showing all the power and desire needed in a top striker. But the way Chelsea fought back showed their was no lack of heart on their part, and the way they started a cricket score was looming. Chelsea have been in a class of their own this season. Their former England captain was of a more recent vintage, even their youngsters were younger. Chelsea’s number 62 was on the bench, even though Nathaniel Chalobah does not turn 16 until December.
Yuri Zhirkov had shot wide after being teed up by Nicolas Anekla, but little else had happened before Chelsea led. Debutant Sol Campbell, whose first touch for Newcastle was booed loudly was partly to blame, colliding with Tim Krul as both chased a right-wing cross. The ball was never properly cleared and Patrick van Aanholt tackled Nile Ranger, then finished off a one-two with Gael Kakuta.
Campbell headed wide a good chance from Ryan Taylor’s cross two minutes later but it was a rare break in the one-way flow of the game. A stretching Kakuta headed wide Paulo Ferreira’s cross and Krul twice had to be quick off his line to nick the ball from Anelka.
To say it was a shock when Newcastle equalised would be an understatement but it totally tipped the balance of power. He might not have gone as far as Carlo Ancelotti with his nine changes, but Chris Hughton declined to take the champions on head on, giving fringe players Ameobi, Campbell, Ranger, Taylor, Shane Ferguson, Peter Lovenkrands and Haris Vuckic rare starts.
The fringe players, though, had their benefits. When Lovenkrands failed to get proper contact on Ferguson’s cross Ranger slid in to tap home the first goal an opposition player had scored on the west London ground since March. He ought to have had another minutes later, the (half) fit-again John Terry deflecting a Jonas Gutierrez cross through, but it met with a horrendous mis-kick.
When Jeffrey Bruma brought Ameobi down dangerously close to the penalty area Taylor curled in his second goal of this season’s competition.
Having earlier very nearly been punished for over-playing in central midfield, Vuckic chased down Anelka and Terry had to clear Ameobi’s cross-shot off the line. Even Campbell had found his feet after a shaky start, sliding in to stop Daniel Sturridge scoring on the breakaway.
With a double Chelsea substitution the second half was obviously going to be different. Within seconds Zhirkov’s shot deflected for their first corner. But this was a game which rejected the obvious. Instead Ameobi, stepping over like he was Cristiano Ronaldo, calmly slotted a third. Substitute Salomon Kalou went down under no contact and was stretchered off to be replaced by Josh McEachran, denying Chalobah a place in the history books as Chelsea’s youngest player, at least for now.
There was no one near Kalou as he crumpled in a heap, nor near Yossi Benayoun as his calf appeared to twang in the 64th minute. Down to 10 men, it was one of those nights for a club for who had so far had everything their own way this season.
Champions do not give up easily, Alex hitting the post when Bruma’s free-kick rebounded to him, but neither were Newcastle content to sit on their lead, the impressive Ameobi teeing up Lovenkrands to dink a shot wide, then putting a long ball over. With 20 minutes to go, van Aanholt crossed and Anelka tapped in.
Ranger and Anelka both came close to second goals, Ross Turnbull juggling the former’s header, Krul beating away a long-range shot. The Frenchman tends to get his own way and a minute later he picked himself up after Mike Williamson’s foul and stabbed in a penalty which would have been embarrassing had it dribbled the other side of the post.
Neither, though, would Ameobi, ignoring Ferreira’s volley against the post to leap Andy Carroll-like and head in Gutierrez’s 90th-minute corner.
“That’s why we’re champions!” echoed back the chant Newcastle’s fans had been forced to listen to seconds earlier.