Football: Pearce proves a true pearl

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The Independent Online
Chelsea 1

Babayaro 23

Newcastle United 1

Andersson 43

Attendance: 34,795

IT FELL to a Nigerian and a Swede to collect the goals which earned a share of the points for Chelsea and Newcastle in this glittering parade of all-nations talent. The talent by no means always lived up to the price tags and Chelsea, for the second week, disappointed their supporters with a display that was some way short of expectations.

It says much for Newcastle's ambitions that their outstanding player, by some distance, was Stuart Pearce, the oldest man on the park. Alan Shearer continues to struggle to fulfill his role as a scorer of goals but the support he received here, in the face of close marking by Michael Duberry, was mediocre, at least until the arrival of the Peruvian Norberto Solano in the second half.

For Chelsea, the parts have not yet jelled by any means. Big names may still not make a title-winning team. Their best operator was Gianfranco Zola, whose place has recently been in jeopardy with the influx of new signings. The 25th- minute goal of their Nigerian international, Celestine Babayaro, offered a promise of a profitable afternoon, but Newcastle were level before the interval through their blond striker Andreas Andersson and rarely under serious threat after that.

Despite all the talent on tap, the early stages were full of muscle and bustle as the two sides went in pursuit of domination. France's World Cup winner Marcel Desailly, welcomed with a huge roar, operated in the space just in front of Chelsea's back four. He got swift indication of what life in the Premiership will be like, passing to Duberry and moving into position for the return, only to see his new colleague hoof the ball upfield.

The industry and neat footwork of Zola were the highlights of Chelsea's pressure as they gradually built a momentum, and he provided his compatriot Roberto Di Matteo with a fine opening when he rode heavy challenges but Di Matteo shot straight into Shay Given's arms from the edge of the penalty area.

Graeme Le Saux, along with Duberry the only English players in Chelsea's line-up, was almost as busy as Zola down the left. One fine cross just cleared Gustavo Poyet's leap and another was intercepted by Given's catch.

As Newcastle struggled to put it together Alessandro Pistone collected a booking for diving under Di Matteo's challenge and while their followers were still loudly complaining about that decision, Chelsea went in front after 25 minutes. Inevitably, Zola was behind the goal, feeding Poyet whose shot was blocked on the line by Pearce, only for the jubilant Babayaro to volley the loose ball home decisively, his first for the club.

Chelsea were soon celebrating what they thought was a second as Pierluigi Casiraghi, exchanging passes with Zola, flicked the ball over Given's head, but he was "given" too - offside.

Newcastle's chief, indeed, only ploy was to get the ball up to Shearer and Andersson, who was generally well policed by Duberry. Shearer sliced one attempt across the face of goal, then from a corner Andersson caused some confusion in the Chelsea six-yard box.

A couple of Pearce trademark tackles halted Casiraghi and Zola as Chelsea began to make serious inroads but the next goal came at the other end just before the interval. A punt was headed on by Shearer and Andersson surprisingly bulldozed his way past Duberry to find the far corner of the net.

Di Matteo brought a fine diving stop from Given as Chelsea began the second half with more urgency. However, Newcastle's workmanlike defence was their salvation, with Pearce outstanding in repelling Chelsea's urgent attempts to find another goal.

Dan Petrescu, on for Le Saux after an hour, immediately found Poyet with a perfect centre, only for the ball to go unerringly into Given's midriff again. Next time in action, Given needed to work much harder altogether, diving to pull off a brilliant stop from Zola.

When Solano was brought on for Andersson after 66 minutes Newcastle immediately looked a more positive and dangerous outfit. Solano promptly gave Shearer the best pass he had had all day, along the ground and with time to take aim. The ball came back off De Goey's right-hand upright and into the goalkeeper's grateful arms.

Things looked ominous for Newcastle when Chelsea won a free-kick right in front of goal and just outside the area, but before Zola's shot was blocked by the wall, Leboeuf had gone into the referee's book for wasting time. Then Zola himself was shown the yellow card for trying too flamboyantly to win a penalty. Of the five bookings issued by Uriah Rennie, three were for diving and one for wasting time. Hooray for him.

All that remained for Newcastle was to keep their heads and hold out for a draw they merited. This they did without much bother. As Chelsea's manager, Gianluca Vialli, said, "We did quite well but we have to think about what we did not do very well. We have to slow down a bit."