Chelsea super subs inspire second-half comeback to draw at Newcastle
Premier League champions Chelsea fought back from 2-0 down in a frenetic second-half at St James’ Park, pinching a crucial point from Newcastle United.
Jose Mourinho’s men are surely the Magpies’ favoured opponents, and it looked as though Chelsea’s curse on Tyneside would continue, as there were spades of snap and spirit about Steve McClaren’s side from the off.
Former Newcastle forward Loic Remy, roundly booed by the home support, started as lone striker after his midweek exertions impressed, but notably lacked the composure of suspended Diego Costa. Branislav Ivanovic barged into the box early on, but his ball was seemingly too fast for the Frenchman, whose reactive strike was wildly off target.
Ivanovic then almost proved a liability, as Georginio Wijnaldum’s burst of pace beat the right back though, luckily for the Londoners, Aleksandar Mitrovic could not direct his header from the resulting cross. Still, it was a warning shot for the capital club, who should have taken stock.
While the Tyneside team were aggressive and ambitious, frequently beating the Blues to loose balls, Chelsea once again seemed complacent, highlighted by Pedro Rodriguez taking too many touches in a dangerous position, eventually running into a crowd of Newcastle defenders.
In the 28th minute, promising link-up play between predatory Ayoze Perez and rampaging right back Daryl Janmaat was a taste of what was yet to come from the Northeast outfit, with only alert Asmir Begovic keeping the Dutch defender and Spanish striker’s shots at bay.
Cesc Fabregas tested keeper Tim Krul with a few ferocious strikes from distance, but it was the hosts who deservedly took the lead just before the break. Perez poached around the 42nd minute mark, lethally latching onto a lovely lofted ball from Vurnon Anita to lash home and repay McClaren’s decision to play two up top.
While the volley was outstanding, Perez had all the time in the world, with centre back duo Ivanovic and Kurt Zouma both ball-watching and failing to take responsibility, ultimately allowing the forward to ghost in between for a fine finish.
The Blues notably began the second-half with greater purpose and urgency to their play and, though Remy’s close-range bullet header was offside anyway, Krul’s reflex save was a highlight of the opening exchanges.
Wily Wijnaldum then caused a stir, as he broke free from Fabregas during a set-piece to head into the far corner unchallenged, putting his team 2-0 up at a moment when they were suffering a barrage of Blues attacks.
Mourinho decisively drafted in Radamel Falcao and Willian to rally the troops, with the former finding himself through on goal, only to be ruled offside and have his attempt easily kept out by Krul anyway.
Newcastle did well to deny Chelsea until the 79th minute, when the Magpies’ backline finally buckled under the persistent pressure. Zouma somewhat made amends for his earlier error with a superb cross-field pass, which was captured by Eden Hazard. The Belgian found space to slide in super sub Ramires, who unleashed a right-footed rocket to get one back for the Blues, his replacing of Oscar appearing a Mourinho masterstroke.
Chelsea had a chance to convert their dominance into an equaliser just moments later, as Fabregas bypassed Newcastle’s defence with a brilliant ball over the top, yet Pedro could not keep his cool and watched his strike sail into the stands.
The capital club eventually and somewhat inevitably drew level, though it took until the 87th minute, with another substitute in Willian again proving pivotal, as the Brazilian’s free-kick sailed over Newcastle’s wall and past an un-sighted Krul.
A point may prove somewhat disappointing for the guests, especially as Manchester City also slipped-up, though it is Newcastle who may feel the bitterest blow as they still search for a first league win.