Toon left shattered as battle of struggling bosses ends all square
Newcastle United 2 Chelsea 2
Never mind the Newcastle crisis, the Chelsea one was nearly back on again here. Steve McClaren started this game as arguably the Premier League manager under most pressure, following the reaction of Newcastle supporters to the tamest of exits from the first cup of the season.
He came within 10 minutes of passing much of that burden on to Jose Mourinho, whose Chelsea side once again looked pallid and likely to slump to a fourth league defeat before the end of September, before a remarkable late recovery left the home side hanging on just to earn a point.
Mourinho deserves some credit for his substitutions, for Ramires came on to pull the first goal back and was crucially involved in the equaliser, even if he failed to get much on a Willian free-kick that ended up in the back of Tim Krul's net.
Eden Hazard, who had been on the pitch all along, was the real spark of Chelsea's fightback, however, and the travelling fans must have made their way home wondering why he, and their team in general, only showed any spark in the final few minutes. Perhaps it was the shock of finding themselves two goals down to Newcastle that spurred Chelsea into action.
A draw was a fair result in the end, and if Newcastle were left deflated at the final whistle at least they showed some of the fight and application their manager had asked for.
McClaren made five changes to the side beaten by Sheffield Wednesday's reserves in the Capital One Cup on Wednesday and asked the inexperienced Kevin Mbabu, a right-footed central defender, to play at left-back against the defending champions. Mbabu only made his Newcastle debut in the cup game in midweek and on his first Premier League start he found himself marking Pedro. Chelsea stuck with the side that beat Arsenal last week apart from the one enforced alteration, replacing the suspended Diego Costa with Loic Remy.
Remy might have put his team ahead with the first real chance of the game after Branislav Ivanovic fought his way to the byeline and crossed from the right, but the ball came to him quickly and his stabbed shot from the six-yard line flew harmlessly wide.
McClaren had made an impassioned plea for fight from his players after the Wednesday horror-show and in the first part of the game the home side showed it. Georginio Wijnaldum took on and beat Ivanovic down the left to send over a cross that Aleksandar Mitrovic reached with his head but could not keep on target, then on Newcastle's next attack Moussa Sissoko advanced to the edge of the penalty area and rolled a shot narrowly wide of Asmir Begovic's goal.
McClaren's were putting up a decent show. Mbabu incensed Mourinho by upending Pedro right in from of the dugout, but otherwise Newcastle were matching their opponents fairly, with Jack Colback and Vurnon Anita winning most of the midfield contests. From a move that started with Colback, Ayoze Perez brought the first save of the game from Begovic, quickly followed by another stop by the goalkeeper when Daryl Janmaat carried the ball into the area. It took a last-ditch block by Gary Cahill to halt another adventurous Janmaat run, and as the interval approached it was possible to argue Newcastle had enjoyed the better of the game.
There was no real end product though, and Chelsea almost made their hosts pay for over-adventurousness in attack when Chancel Mbemba was caught in possession far too far up the pitch, creating a hole in central defence into which Cesc Fabregas strode to bring a diving save from Tim Krul.
With Chelsea obviously so dangerous on the counter Newcastle were probably thinking they needed to cash in on their overall supremacy with a goal before half-time, when one arrived from nowhere with three minutes to spare. Actually it arrived from Anita's long, diagonal ball into the Chelsea area, but there seemed no obvious danger until Ivanovic and Kurt Zouma left dealing with it to each other and allowed Ayoze a free shot at goal. Perez took one right foot touch to bring the ball down then a second to beat Begovic via the inside of an upright, with the two Chelsea defenders practically standing back and applauding.
If that soured Mourinho's mood for the half-time team talk it would not have improved any when Newcastle increased their lead through Wijnaldum from a set-piece on the hour.
Mourinho sent on all his substitutes, and one of them, Ramires, pulled a goal back with an unstoppable rising drive after Hazard had finally managed to impose himself on the game by deftly cutting in from the left. The Belgian came to life after that and was Chelsea's best hope in the closing minutes, but Mbemba threw himself in the way of Hazard's best chance of an equaliser.
Yet Chelsea kept coming, and Newcastle were finding it hard to repel the blue tide. Ramires and Willian will have to argue between themselves over who should claim the final goal. The only important thing in the end was that Newcastle could not keep it out, and it saved Chelsea from embarrassment.
Sunday Indo Sport