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Late equaliser earns Magpies a point at Chelsea
Published : 15 May 2011 20:25:04
IT started with a spirited showing in defeat against Manchester United, and ended with a dramatic stoppage-time equaliser at Chelsea. Newcastle's 19-game away campaign is one of the key reasons why they will be playing Premier League football next season. IT started with a spirited showing in defeat against Manchester United, and ended with a dramatic stoppage-time equaliser at Chelsea. Newcastle's 19-game away campaign is one of the key reasons why they will be playing Premier League football next season. A total of five away successes, including especially notable victories at Arsenal and Everton, and five on-the-road draws, including yesterday's committed come-from-behind effort, has garnered a total of 20 points, almost half of the Magpies' total for the season. Most newly-promoted clubs survive on the strength of their home form, but only three Premier League sides have won less home games this season than Newcastle. As a result, much of the ground work for the club's successful stabilisation has occurred away from St James' Park. That has demanded spirit and resolve, attributes that were honed on the grounds of the Championship last season and which have proved invaluable in the top-flight this term. While previous Newcastle sides have lacked the backbone required to succeed when the chips are down, the current crop of players seem to perform best in the face of adversity. There was certainly an element of 'never say die' in the stoppage-time Steven Taylor header that earned the Magpies a point yesterday, with the defender powering past John Terry to meet Nile Ranger's headed knock-down. Rocked by Branislav Ivanovic's second-minute opener, Newcastle had already levelled once through Jonas Gutierrez's fortuitous deflection, only to fall behind again when Alex headed home with seven minutes left. Yet just as they had in the Carling Cup in September, the Magpies refused to be cowed in Chelsea's backyard and there was much to admire in the resilience of a side that included the likes of Shane Ferguson, Kazenga LuaLua and debutant Sammy Ameobi by the time the final whistle was blown. When Newcastle kicked off the current campaign at Old Trafford nine months ago, Chris Hughton, would no doubt have been eyeing yesterday's final away fixture as a potentially crucial moment in the battle for survival.. Hughton, of course, is no more, but his successor, Alan Pardew, has built on his predecessor's good work and guided the Magpies to safety with two games to spare. Along with each and every member of the playing squad, the pair deserve considerable credit for their efforts. Forget furtive talk of European qualification or even a top-ten finish, survival was always going to be the be all and end all this season, and the fact it has been achieved without the need for a final-day drama means the campaign has to be regarded as a qualified success. The qualification chiefly relates to the departure of Andy Carroll, and the subsequent rebuilding project that will be necessary this summer. Get that right, and Newcastle can look to the future with justified optimism. Chelsea's summer will revolve around the fate of Carlo Ancelotti, who looks likely to pay the price for a rare trophy-less season on the King's Road. If yesterday was to be the Italian's final game at Stamford Bridge, perhaps the unsatisfactory outcome from a home point of view provided a fitting snapshot of his reign. Not, however, that it looked that way two minutes in, as Ivanovic took advantage of some dreadful Magpies defending to convert Frank Lampard's corner. Fernando Torres flicked the ball on at the front post, and Ivanovic muscled ahead of Fabricio Coloccini to dispatch a crisp first-time volley past Tim Krul. From a Newcastle perspective, it was the worst possible start, but crucially, parity was restored within less than eight minutes. The equaliser featured a huge slice of luck, with Gutierrez unwittingly using his back to deflect Ryan Taylor's driven free-kick past a helpless Petr Cech, but was arguably no more than the visitors deserved given the controversial build-up to the set-piece. John Terry hauled down Peter Lovenkrands as he threatened to break clear following an error in the Chelsea defence, and while referee Lee Mason booked the England skipper, other referees could have viewed his position as the last defender in a less tolerant light. Buoyed by their leveller, Newcastle spent the remainder of the first half matching their second-placed opponents stride for stride. With Gutierrez relishing the freedom of a floating role behind Shola Ameobi and Lovenkrands providing further support from a wide position on the right, the Magpies counter-attacked with pace and numbers, and while Chelsea dominated possession for much of the game, the greater threat often came from Newcastle. Ivanovic was forced to hack Ameobi's goalbound header to safety, Danny Simpson flashed a long-range effort narrowly wide of the upright and Lovenkrands came close to meeting Ferguson's floated cross as the Magpies repeatedly picked holes in a Chelsea rearguard that has been markedly less secure than Manchester United's for the majority of the campaign. Gutierrez, in particular, was proving difficult for the hosts to handle, and Cech had to be at his most alert to save the Argentinian's curled effort after he cut in from the left flank shortly before the hour mark. Gutierrez has impressed in patches this season, but yesterday's eye-catching display suggested that a rigid left-wing role might not necessarily be playing to all of his strengths. Chelsea looked short of ideas throughout the second half, but a misjudgement from Krul, which was not the Dutchman's first this season, helped the home side claim the lead. Krul got nowhere near Lampard's free-kick, and Alex rose well to find an unguarded net. The goal was harsh on the Magpies, but there was to be a final twist in stoppage time. Ranger kept Ryan Taylor's corner alive at the back post, and Steven Taylor powered home a deserved equaliser from the edge of the six-yard box.