This was an end to end game in which we came from behind to briefly lead before succumbing as our defensive frailties were, once again, brutally exposed.
Juan Mata could have piloted an aeroplane through the space between Newcastle’s back four and midfield. The Geordies have no pretensions of being a solid defensive unit (after all, they shipped 7 against Arsenal) but their “we’re gonna score one more than you” approach paid off here.
The first 15 minutes were unspectacular from the Blues with Newcastle pressing high and in numbers at cup tie pace.
Frank Lampard’s long range radar was either white hot or stone cold in this game. After Mata fed Cole, his ball into Lampard was ballooned over the crossbar.
Mata fed Oscar shortly afterwards. Again the crossbar was cleared comfortably from around 25 yards.
Chelsea looked comfortable enough defensively, restricting Newcastle to shots from outside the box that either missed the target or Cech saved without alarm.
Ramires was a touch fortunate not to see red just before the half hour. His challenge on Jonas Gutierrez, in the modern game, was careless at best. Howard Webb chose leniency with a yellow card.
Shortly after, Ba’s afternoon effectively came to a premature end. Lampard’s ball over the top saw Ba outrun Coloccini and get a decent strike away that Krul kept out but the ball rebounded to Ba. His header was fractionally past the far post and milliseconds before Coloccini’s boot smashed into his nose, breaking it.
Coloccini should have seen red, with a penalty awarded but Webb chose to take no action.
With the Blues reduced to 10 men whilst Ba received running repairs, Cech made a world class save. A long range effort ricocheted into the path of Cisse, 12 yards out.
His shot, firm, low and to Cech’s left was clawed away by a strong left hand to keep the clean sheet intact.
Ba returned with 6 minutes to half time and after failing, unsurprisingly, to challenge effectively for a high ball, his last act was to watch his old team take the lead.
Cabaye found Santon, who needed no encouragement to get forward. As a right footed left back, he was able to cut inside Ivanovic all too easily and deliver an accurate diagonal ball into the box. Gutierrez got across in front of Cahill and directed his header into the far corner, giving Cech no chance.
Given their tempo and intent throughout the half, it is hard to argue that Newcastle’s goal was not deserved.
The lead was almost doubled before Half Time. Cabaye’s corner was headed square across the box by Lampard and Sissoko’s shot was blocked by Bertrand at the expense of a corner.
Chelsea needed to raise our game in the second half. In fairness, initially, we did just that.
Playing at a much better tempo and maintaining possession, the improvement was marked. Our equaliser however came out of nothing.
Goal number 197 for Frank Lampard was a screamer. He got the ball out of his feet and let fly from 25 yards, the ball swerving first left then right and over Krul who had no chance.
Just before the hour mark came our best move of the game. Oscar and Mata indulged in a couple of eye catching 1-2s before Mata’s measured cross picked out Lampard, 10 yards out, whose header was straight at Krul.
After a Cisse elbow on John Terry went unpunished, Cisse and Ashley Cole engaged in some not so friendly exchanges of words. Both would see yellow from the restart after Chelsea stormed into the lead.
Ivanovic’s foray forward down the right led to a cross that Torres neatly laid back into the path of Mata just inside the apex of the Newcastle area. His first time shot was a left footed curler into the far corner that left Krul clutching at air.
The Blues had turned the game on its head by exploiting a very open Newcastle side. Instead of crumbling and trying to shore things up, Alan Pardew’s men kept bombing forward in numbers, leaving space behind that Chelsea were happy to fill.
Shortly after Mata’s goal came a potential game changing moment. Oscar got the better of Debuchy and could (arguably should) have gone down when fouled inside the area. Instead, he stayed on his feet and crossed for Mata who volleyed wildly over.
It is rare to complain about players being too honest but both Oscar and Mata were in this game. When a clear foul is committed and the decision is not given it is easy to see why some players resort to simulation to even things up. (I don’t agree with it, but I can understand the temptation).
Mata’s miss would prove crucial just minutes later as Newcastle equalised with a quarter of the game remaining.
John Terry overcommitted 10 yards inside the Newcastle half, his attempted slide tackle on Cisse failed and the ball was recycled to Gouffran who ran from inside his own half to inside our penalty area before shooting at Cech. He parried the ball but only into the path of Sissoko who tapped in to the delight of the majority of St James’ Park, as Cahill and Oscar could only watch.
Our lack of pace at the back was exposed again just 4 minutes later. A Chelsea corner was hoofed into our half by Gouffran towards our left back space. Sissoko shredded Ashley Cole for pace and from a tight angle, his right footed strike was turned away by Cech at the expense of a corner.
Mata’s shirt was clearly pulled by Santon on 75 minutes inside the box. He stayed on his feet, overhit his cross and rued his luck. A minute later, Ivanovic’s diagonal punt was met by Ryan Bertrand’s head and looped over both Krul and the crossbar.
Both sides continued to try and land the knockout punch and Sissoko gave us another scare, again on the counter. Gouffran’s last action of the day was to feed him on the Newcastle left. He turned Cahill inside and out before toe poking his shot at Cech.
Oscar’s fidelity was again above reproach as Santon pulled him back in the box with the next phase of play. He stayed on his feet and crossed to Lampard who blazed over from 20 yards.
Gouffran’s replacement, Sylvain Marveaux was straight into the game. He got the better of Ivanovic and crossed to Cisse who shot on the turn from 12 yards into row Z.
Newcastle’s winner came in the last minute of normal time. Sissoko fed Santon on the left and headed towards the penalty area, checking his run just outside.
As Santon pulled the ball back, Lampard reacted a split second too late to the impending danger. He tried to close down Sissoko whose shot from 20 yards was smashed low and true. Cech’s vision was impaired by legs in front of him and despite getting down, he could not divert the ball.
4 minutes of added time often leads to at least one chance, as it did here. Terry’s long punt was challenged for by Bertrand and fell to Lampard on the edge of the box. His shot was blocked by Taylor and despite the Blues protestations for handball, Mr Webb shook his head and condemned the Blues to our third defeat of 2013.
We remain third but ceded ground to Arsenal, Spurs and Everton in the pursuit of a top 4 finish. Lampard’s personal milestone of 10 Premier League goals in 10 consecutive seasons is scant consolation for the Blues but noteworthy for Frank.
Just 3 wins from 10 games in 2013 is a meagre return and inevitably, media attention turned to the future of Rafael Benitez.
After the game, Paddy Power suspended bets on Benitez becoming the next Premier League manager to lose his job, amidst increasingly strong rumours of a return to the Bridge for Jose Mourinho next season as his Real Madrid side continue to endure a miserable Primera Liga campaign.
A bit like our push for a top 4 finish, time will tell.
Follow Chris Davies on Twitter: @chrisdaviescfc