Newcastle 2 Chelsea 2: Tyneside remains a no-win zone for Jose Mourinho and refreshingly, it was also a no-whine zone for the Chelsea manager, who for once resisted the urge to blame outside influences for his team’s failings.
There was a relatively minor dig at referee Michael Atkinson, but Mourinho’s main targets here were his own players who dug themselves into a hole by going 2-0 down, then relied on substitutes Ramires and Willian to extricate them.
The pair shared two goals in the final 11 minutes and Ramires almost claimed a stoppage time winner that would have enabled Mourinho to leave St James’ Park with three points for the first time in six attempts.
Defender Gary Cahill shares Mourinho’s dismay at a Tyneside record that features defeats in their three previous visits. “It’s every flipping time we come to this stadium,” said the England international.
“We have not had the best of luck here, but obviously that’s got nothing to do with it really. It’s all on the day and today we weren’t good enough in the first-half and that’s why we went in behind.”
It’s an accurate assessment of Chelsea’s first-half performance, which prompted Mourinho to give a minus-one out of ten rating to all his players by the interval, although that was being generous to defenders Kurt Zouma and Branislav Ivanovic who allowed Ayoze Perez to put Newcastle in front with a smart finish in the 42nd minute.
Newcastle were two ahead on the hour when Georginio Wijnaldum took advantage of more slack marking to head in Perez’s corner just as Willian was waiting on the touchline to go on along with Radamel Falcao. The last throw of the dice by Mourinho was the arrival of Ramires in the 73rd minute and it proved to be moment that swung the balance of power away from Newcastle.
Manchester City’s defeat earlier in the day means there is an eight-point gap between Chelsea and the new leaders Manchester United. It is manageable, although Cahill accepts the London club have already used up “a lot of our lifelines”.
His manager has no doubts about Chelsea’s capacity to finish at the top again, yet this was a strangely modest and subdued Mourinho, who admitted he was bemused by what he witnessed from his team. “Yes, I am confused,” he said. “I try to read the game and do not understand why we were so poor in the first half.”
He must find the answers before tomorrow’s Champions League tie at Porto where John Terry will surely return in place of Zouma. Ivanovic also remains vulnerable and the two goalscorers have earned starting roles.
Newcastle, still in the bottom three and without a win, won’t have it any easier in their next game at Manchester City, but - as Mourinho pointed out - they are a team that lift themselves against the best opposition.
Newcastle manager Steve McClaren doesn’t disagree with that analysis. He said: “I will be levelling the same at the players. He is exactly right. We did it at Old Trafford, against Arsenal and now Chelsea. But this is a tough league and you have to do it every week.”
It was still his most satisfying day since taking over at United with numerous plus points, notably the partnership between Perez and Aleksandar Mitrovic and a splendid debut by left-back Kevin Mbabu.
Krul 7; Janmaat 6, Mbemba 6, Coloccini 6, Mbabu 8; Colback 5 (Obertan 53,5), Anita 7; Wijnaldum 7; Sissoko 5 (de Jong 90,5), Perez 7; Mitrovic 7 (Toney 84,5).
Subs not used:
Elliot, Williamson, Lascelles,Thauvin
Begovic 5; Ivanovic 6, Zouma 5, Cahill 6, Azpilicueta 6, Matic 5 (Willian 61,7), Fabregas 5; Pedro 5, Oscar 5 (Ramires 73,8) Hazard 6; Remy 5 (Falca 61,5).
Subs not used:
Blackman, Terry, Mikel, Kenedy.
M Atkinson 6
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved