Newcastle United 1 Chelsea 1

NEWCASTLE United are developing the rather nice habit of producing their best just when their supporters are starting to fear the worst.

Andy Carroll

NEWCASTLE United are developing the rather nice habit of producing their best just when their supporters are starting to fear the worst.

This time it was an impressively disciplined performance against Chelsea, which pushed them another point closer to survival.

You are not always rewarded with three points for a victory, yet this was another triumph of sorts for Newcastle and manager Chris Hughton, who has added a home draw to that brilliant win at Arsenal at the start of the month.

It was not as headline-grabbing as that famous trip to the Emirates, but in the context of their campaign, this was just as important.

United have dropped points where they should not have this term, but this was one gained where few expected and that does wonders for confidence.

Better Newcastle sides than this one have consistently struggled to take points off the best teams in the country, both at home and on their travels.

And there is something comforting about the way these players come out fighting whenever they are backed into a corner.

Dreadful at Bolton the previous weekend, and inconsistent to say the least at St James’s this season, this was a return to the values and attitudes which have served them so well up until this point.

The criticism that followed that 5-1 thrashing stung and so it should have, but this was the only way to respond.

Chelsea dominated possession and looked the more capable side, but Newcastle, without injured skipper Kevin Nolan, were efficient defensively and occasionally exciting going forward.

They worked hard, fought for everything and ran themselves into the ground – in some cases to a complete standstill in injury time – and that was enough to disrupt Chelsea’s fluency and maintain a security blanket over a new-look back four.

Chelsea will point to the continued absence of key men like John Terry, Frank Lampard and Michael Essien in trying to explain their third league game without a win, yet United were without some of their own in Joey Barton and Fabricio Coloccini.

Given that they had never played a Premier League game together and, in Steven Taylor’s case, had not started a competitive game since January because of injuries, he and Sol Campbell did superbly in the centre of defence.

As for Cheik Tiote, he was a rock on his return to the centre of midfield and there is no doubt the Ivory Coast international is vital to the balance of the side.

In turn, Wayne Routledge may infuriate at times with his decision-making, but he added another dimension to the team’s style of play with his pace on the right.

And then, of course, there is Andy Carroll.

The England international could hardly move when the final whistle blew – United must be careful not to risk him picking up an injury through fatigue – but he was unplayable in the first 45 minutes.

Chelsea’s defenders did not know whether to stand off or stick tight and Carroll dominated in the first half.

He did not have a single chance other than his goal, but he deserved the luck he got on that occasion simply for roughing up the visiting defence to such an extent, they were nervous enough to make a blunder.

With just six minutes on the clock, Routledge lost the ball in the tackle as United tried to press Chelsea in their own half.

There was not much danger, but Alex played a blind back pass towards Petr Cech, only to find his goalkeeper had moved up to collect the ball.

Carroll was on to it in a flash as it rolled passed Cech and he carefully pushed into the back of the net from a couple of yards. It was exactly what Newcastle needed, a lead to cling on to against opponents whose cloak of invincibility has slipped around their ankles in recent weeks – and they did just that for much of the first half.

Didier Drogba managed to get a shot away after beating Taylor, but the Newcastle man did enough to deflect it into the side netting.

Jose Enrique managed to clear a Nicolas Anelka header off the line, but Shola Ameobi also threatened at the other end when he was just unable to get on the end of Carroll’s knockdown.

If there was one mistake in Newcastle’s play it was their inability to maintain possession, which allowed Chelsea to build up momentum.

And it told in first-half stoppage time, Soloman Kalou drifting through the middle of the defence to get a shot in which deflected off Danny Simpson and into the bottom corner.

It was a terrible time to concede a goal and may have caused United to crumble, but they started the second period strongest again, Carroll almost on the end of a Routledge cross before Ashley Cole somehow headed the latter’s cross off the line as Cech failed to deal with a high cross from Enrique.

Again, though, Chelsea grew as the half progressed, Drogba forcing a save from Tim Krul with a shot on the turn moments before he had an effort ruled out for handball.

Bratislav Ivanovic put a header at Krul from a corner and Anelka dragged one shot centimetres wide from the edge of the area with Krul scrambling across his goal. With ten minutes remaining, the reigning champions should have snatched a win.

Taylor got in a muddle trying to allow the ball to run back to Krul, but Kalou, with the net gaping, could only shoot into the side netting.

A poor finish, but it was an escape Hughton’s men thoroughly deserved.

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