After 21 games and 65 minutes, Chelsea's supporters finally acknowledged Avram Grant. Unfortunately for him the first chant ever aimed at Jose Mourinho's successor, which followed the substitution of Joe Cole, was "you don't know what you're doing". Twenty-two minutes later that verdict was certainly applicable to someone else the assistant referee Mike Cairns, who can expect demotion after, somehow, failing to spot that Salomon Kalou was two yards offside as he turned the ball in for Chelsea's winning goal.
It condemned Newcastle to another defeat. And so the chants were changed. Their manager, Sam Allardyce was told by the gleeful home fans "you'll be sacked in the morning" although the quality of his team's defiance was certainly acknowledged by chairman Chris Mort who visited the dressing room to commiserate over Cairns's appalling mistake. "We were robbed" was the general tone. Pity owner Mike Ashley was still on holiday although, as one Newcastle official quipped, even a billionaire might blanch at the prices charged in the away end.
Roman Abramovich wasn't at the game either, in sharp contrast to previous years when the Christmas and New Year programme was always taken in by the Russian and, crucially, his friends. Indeed it was the two home draws during the last festive season that helped do for Mourinho. Grant is fire-proof even if the sense is now growing around those close to Abramovich that this may be his one and only season in charge.
Certainly the fans are finding him hard to love. The chant of incompetence rose again when stand-in captain Michael Ballack was withdrawn, while there was a calling, admittedly half-hearted, for Mourinho. The Israeli had a unique take claiming it was because "the fans feel excited like everybody else". "But I'm not complaining about the fans," Grant said. "They are behind us almost all the way."
Almost. It could have been a word borrowed by Allardyce whose side almost produced the performance to end Chelsea's long unbeaten home sequence and almost did enough to help remove the ticking bomb over the manager's future. With Manchester City at home and Stoke City away in the FA Cup next Sunday, that tricky device still needs to be defused.
Allardyce was asked his opinion on the booing of Grant, and used it to give a perceptive take on the Premier League and his own predicament. Abuse has been no stranger this troubled season. "It's probably typical of the level of expectation that's around these days. That's something that we all have to accept," he said. "Before the season's started, with 530m spent [in transfers], you knew that it was going to be the most volatile season. We're halfway through and seven managers have gone. I've been playing against managers recently and I've actually been at Newcastle longer than them, and I've only been here seven months."
Allardyce competed as enthusiastically as anyone in that transfer market and is hoping to do so again next month although his best performers Nicky Butt and Charles N'Zogbia were inherited. The manager also spoke for the first time on Joey Barton's arrest and charge of assault. Having paid 5.8m for the midfielder, Allardyce admitted he felt let down at the very least for even being out at 5.30am. "There's no question of that but I've got to deal with that quietly and privately when the opportunity arises," he said while acknowledging Barton's future at the club is now in the hands of the board.
Thankfully Grant doesn't have such problems although he, too, needs to buy. With a shocking list of absentees eight injured and two suspended and Florent Malouda suffering another set-back with his damaged knee, he has wholly acceptable excuses. But even Grant admitted: "If you look at the last 15 minutes, I cannot try to pretend that it was great football."
During that final period it was Newcastle, however, who should have won. They fell behind when Shaun Wright-Phillips's shot took a heavy deflection and fell to Essien, who prodded the ball in. Wright-Phillips created a number of chances, time after time getting to the by-line in classic winger style to cut the ball back but then N'Zogbia did the same, early in the second-half, and the ball cannoned off Obafemi Martins and Wayne Bridge before Butt nudged it home. Martins had earlier missed two opportunities before Kalou struck, pouncing after John Obi Mikel's shot had rebounded off Claudio Pizarro.
Such was Newcastle's frustration that three players were booked for protesting with the last one, N'Zogbia, fortunate not to be red-carded for shoving referee Mike Riley after the final whistle. "We are not getting much luck at the moment and it's getting harder and harder to take it," Martins said. Allardyce agreed.
Goals: Essien (29) 1-0; Butt (56) 1-1; Kalou (87) 2-1.
Chelsea (4-3-3): Hilario; Belletti, Alex, Ben Haim, Bridge; Essien, Mikel, Ballack (Sinclair, 76); Wright-Phillips (Sidwell, 90), Kalou, J Cole (Pizarro, 65). Substitutes not used: Taylor (gk), Ferreira.
Newcastle (4-1-4-1): Given; Beye, Taylor, Cacapa, N'Zogbia; Faye; Milner, Butt, Smith (Rozehnal, 70), Duff (Viduka, 89); Martins (Owen, 74). Substitutes not used: Harper (gk), Emre.
Booked Chelsea Alex; Newcastle Faye, Given, Butt, N'Zogbia.
Referee: M Riley (Yorkshire).
Man of the match: Butt.
Attendance: 41,751.Reuse content