Newcastle 0 Chelsea 2
Even Alan Shearer’s return could not prevent Newcastle slipping deeper into relegation trouble as Chelsea closed to within a point of leaders Manchester United.
The Magpies completed a hat-trick of successive home defeats by top-four sides as the Blues left St James’ Park with all three points just as United and Arsenal have done in recent weeks.
There was plenty to admire in the effort, commitment and determination shown by Shearer’s players, but ultimately they failed to take any of the handful of chances they created, although skipper Michael Owen was convinced his 73rd-minute shot had crossed the line before Ashley Cole hooked it clear.
By contrast, Frank Lampard and Florent Malouda were clinical when their chances arrived within nine second-half minutes.
Newcastle now have just seven games in which to save themselves from relegation, the first of them at fellow strugglers Stoke next weekend.
A crowd of 52,112 turned out desperate for the Shearer effect to kick in straight away, but left under little illusion as to the struggle ahead.
The Magpies knew they would struggle to match Guus Hiddink’s men for innate skill and fluency, and decided to make up for that with effort and sheer bloody-mindedness.
Nicky Butt set the tone with a rugged early challenge on Michael Essien, and Jonas Gutierrez was fortunate to escape punishment for a two-footed lunge at John Terry which drew extended protests from the Blues skipper.
Chelsea rarely sidestep a battle and a tense encounter unfolded with the visitors pressing repeatedly, but meeting stern resistance and Newcastle attempting to hit them on the break.
Clear chances were few and far between with Steve Harper having to pull off a fine 19th-minute save to keep out Salomon Kalou’s diving header and Habib Beye just getting a touch to divert Nicolas Anelka’s shot into the side-netting 14 minutes before the break.
The Magpies created only one real opening when Obafemi Martins, perhaps surprised that Jose Enrique’s low cross had been allowed to reach him, stabbed it just wide of the post with his knee as he reacted late.
But for Shearer, who spent much of the first 45 minutes of his reign stalking the technical area and barking out orders, there was much with which to be pleased.
However, he will have been concerned with the lack of quality of delivery from his wide men, and in particular with Ryan Taylor’s inability to avoid the first man from a series of free-kicks in promising areas.
Owen and Martins combined to almost open Chelsea up within three minutes of the restart, but the visitors responded swiftly.
Essien drilled a long-range shot high and wide, but Malouda’s clever spin took him in on goal with 51 minutes gone and Harper had to make another excellent block at his near post.
Martins fired wide under pressure from Terry and Alex three minutes later, but the opening goal came with 56 minutes gone, and it went to Chelsea.
Fabricio Coloccini’s clearance was blocked and the ball ran to Lampard, who poked it through to Anelka.
The Frenchman was forced wide, but managed to chip a shot over Harper and on to the woodwork, with Lampard easily heading the rebound into the empty net.
Jonas might have done better when he headed substitute Damien Duff’s 64th-minute cross straight at Petr Cech, and his side’s plight worsened within seconds.
Anelka flicked on Cech’s clearance and Lampard slid the ball into the path of Malouda, who despatched a left-foot shot across Harper and into the net.
Owen thought he had pulled a goal back with 17 minutes remaining when his deflected shot was cleared by Ashley Cole, with replays suggesting the ball had crossed the line.
The 29-year-old was in again two minutes later when Martins played him into space inside the box, but his left-foot shot was saved easily by Cech.
But it was the visitors who finished with a flourish as substitutes Michael Ballack and Franco di Santo, Malouda, Kalou and Lampard all went close.
Disappointed applause rang around St James’ on the final whistle as the home fans trudged away hoping against hope that Shearer could yet be their saviour.