Football: Roberto di Matteo acknowledged that with this latest defeat — just his second in his impressive spell as interim manager of Chelsea — his side's chances of clinching that all-important fourth spot in the league are now bleak.
The Blues, who were defeated thanks to a pair of exquisite goals from striker Papiss Cisse, must now try and turn things round in league matches against Liverpool next Tuesday and Blackburn Rovers, on the final day of the season.
Against Newcastle United, whose own chances of clinching a place in next season's Champions League were further enhanced following this victory, Chelsea were poor.
The congested fixture schedule — this was their sixth match in 17 days — had taken its toll. The Blues are now in sixth following this loss. The battle for the Champions League places remains intriguingly poised.
Of course, victory against Bayern Munich, on May 19, in the Champions League final, would ensure that Chelsea qualify automatically. Di Matteo, however, was in reflective mood. "It is going to be difficult for us to get fourth," said the Italian, who has to prepare his side for the FA Cup final against Liverpool, on Saturday. "The season has been difficult but we will keep pushing."
He added: "Newcastle did very well and we are not looking for excuses. Our players gave everything but we are going to re-group and look forward to the FA Cup final. The motivation is going to be there."
Newcastle took the lead, somewhat against the run of play, after Cisse fired in a superb volleyed effort. Up until the 18th minute, Chelsea's players, coming into this match on the back of a fine 6-1 win over local rivals Queens Park Rangers, looked confident and purposeful.
However, Newcastle's opening goal left their hosts having to question their approach to the game, especially after di Matteo had left several key players, including Juan Mata and Frank Lampard, on the bench.
Full-back Davide Santon was integral in the move that led to the goal, spotting his team-mate in the penalty area with his marker Branislav Ivanovic standing off him. The Italian played the ball into Cisse's feet with a sharp pass. The Senegalese striker had already assessed the time that he had been afforded, instinctively flicked the ball up with his right foot before volleying it with his left in one swift motion. Chelsea's Petr Cech stood no chance.
For all Chelsea's early dominance, Newcastle must be praised for their poise and character. It is no wonder that, with the back-line they possess, marshalled by the impressive figure of Fabricio Coloccini, they are among one of the league's meanest defensive units. In front of them stood the imposing pairing of Yohan Cabaye and Cheick Tiote, two players who shone in a all-round positive display from the visitors.
"The work ethic was brilliant from the players," said Newcastle manager Alan Pardew, who saw his side thrashed by Wigan Athletic in their last match. "It is a great moment for us and the players must be really proud of that."
If Cisse's first was outstanding, his second, four minutes into injury time, was simply sublime. Substitute Ryan Taylor, on for the injured Tiote, who suffered a serious gash to his head that caused the match to be stopped for eight minutes, launched a long throw to Shola Ameobi. The striker cleverly controlled the ball on his chest, laying it off in the direction of Cisse, who had adopted a position five yards outside the penalty area. Without hesitating, Cisse swung his boot at the ball, applying enough curl that the ball flew wickedly over the head of the back-peddling Cech and into the goal. It stunned the Chelsea supporters into silence. Moments later, as reality sunk in, and despite five minutes still remaining of injury time, they began streaming for the exits.
Pardew added: "It is all to play for and we are in a great position. We have two games to go and our aim is to win both of them. We will try and get that fourth place."
Newcastle have matches remaining against Manchester City, on Sunday, and at Everton on the final day of the season.
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