Newcastle United. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .0
A CHELSEA victory at long last, and as Joe Worrall's final whistle triggered a prolonged outpouring of relief and joy it was hard to resist the temptation to scan the skies over Stamford Bridge for the presence of pigs in flight. Not just for the novelty of the event - a first win after 11 dispiriting games which had brought the spectre of relegation ever nearer - but also for Newcastle's failure to profit from an embarrassing amount of possession.
That is how it goes sometimes and after Mark Stein's goal, his second in successive matches, few will begrudge Glenn Hoddle his moment of fist-clenching triumph. It was agonising to watch him in the dying minutes as Chelsea hung on and hung on, hardly daring to look and then releasing weeks of pent-up frustration as he hugged each of his players in turn as they came off, having milked the applause for all it was worth.
'Applause' hardly does justice to the reception that greeted the returning blue shirts. An outsider would have been forgiven for assuming an important cup prize was at stake, as from all sides of the ground the win that was so long in coming was received as though it would be the last for some time.
It was 25 September when the boys in The Shed last felt anywhere near this good in terms of the Premiership and a shake-up from Hoddle proved as good as the magic pills the Chelsea manager went in search of following Monday's defeat at Southampton. Perhaps two games in two days is good for them, after all.
Hoddle made three changes and was rewarded with a performance oozing courage and determination. 'We showed commitment and character as well as ability, for I felt we fully deserved to win and that brings immense credit on the lads, considering the pressure they have been under,' he said.
'This was one for our supporters, who have been very patient, and now it is up to us to get a consistent run going to haul ourselves out of trouble.'
As it is, the success enabled Chelsea to leave the relegation zone behind, and there is no reason why they should flirt with danger again if they continue to defend as stoically as this.
An early goal left them with 78 minutes to withstand Newcastle's attempt to save face and their failure to score another from the breakaway attacks they were able to engineer ensured they had to work hard for their spoils.
Newcastle pinned them back continuously, but there was no penetration to go with their possession. The Andy Cole-Peter Beardsley combination fell short of their lofty standards and, for the first time since the opening day of the season, Kevin Keegan's team failed to leave an imprint on their opponents' net.
Twice Cole was put clear - and twice Dimitri Kharin stood up well to the menace of the Premiership's 19-goal leading marksman. 'Too many on the day did not perform, and we know we can do a lot better than that,' Keegan said.
'In the last third we were powder-puff,' he added. 'These players have climbed mountains for the club and they owe us nothing, but if they think they have done enough I will have to see the chairman and get some new players in. I will never settle for being an also- ran.'
Stein's winner came from that perennial source of good ideas, Dennis Wise, eminently deserving of man-of-the-match billing along with Frank Sinclair, who more often than not was the Chelsea body to the rescue at the back.
Even at that stage, pushing up ambitiously, Newcastle were caught square as Wise launched Stein on a clear run. A striker with recent goals is a confident striker, and the pounds 1.5m signing from Stoke delayed his shot before going for the kill in emphatic fashion.
Chelsea (4-4-2): Kharin; Clarke, Sinclair, Johnsen, Dow; Burley, Newton, Wise, Peacock (Spackman, 70); Stein, Shipperley (Spencer, 81). Substitute not used: Hitchcock (gk).
Newcastle United (4-4-2): Hooper; Watson (Robinson, 64), Venison, Howey, Beresford; Lee, Bracewell, Clark (Mathie, 64), Sellars; Cole, Beardsley. Substitute not used: Srnicek (gk).
Referee: J Worrall (Cheshire).
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