Premier League – Chelsea stay in the race


Chelsea beat Newcastle 2-0 in an enthralling encounter at St. James’ Park to keep alive their Premier League title hopes.

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Second-half goals from Michael Ballack and Florent Malouda proved decisive on an entertaining afternoon in the north east, which ended with Avram Grant’s side level on points with league leaders Manchester United.

Due to their inferior goal difference, Chelsea must now defeat Bolton at home next Sunday and hope United fail to beat Wigan at Old Trafford to steal the title.

Avram Grant’s selection was typically bold. Joe Cole and Frank Lampard were relegated to the substitutes’ bench and Ashley Cole absent from the squad altogether. Nicolas Anelka, Wayne Bridge and Malouda all started, along with the fit-again Paulo Ferriera.

It was Newcastle who started the brighter, however, and fashioned the first opening of the match after six minutes, when Nicky Butt‘s chipped pass found Michael Owen on the wrong side of the Chelsea defence. The England striker stretched out his right leg and shot first-time across his body, but his effort was just over.

The home side were passing the ball confidently and matching Chelsea’s physicality in midfield. Butt, Geremi and Joey Barton busied themselves in closing down space and Owen was linking well in behind the strikers.

Just short of the half-hour mark Newcastle came desperately close to a deserved lead. Mark Viduka‘s shot was saved by Peter Cech, and Owen’s follow-up cleared off the line by John Terry.

Chelsea changed gears in the second half. Ballack, Michael Essien and John Obi Mikel began to dictate midfield, and Drogba bared his teeth. Five minutes in, Terry hit the bar with a header from a corner, and a goal seemed inevitable.

After 61 minutes the Blues went ahead. Drogba was fouled on the right edge of the box, and dusted himself down to whip in a curling free-kick which Ballack glanced past Steven Harper to put his side ahead.

Newcastle threatened on the break, but Chelsea were dominant and they sealed the win with ten minutes remaining when Lampard – introduced as a substitute – slid in Malouda to finish with a flourish.

Grant’s side were irresistable for much of the second period, and on this form will feel confident they can beat Bolton on Sunday.

Will Tidey / Eurosport