Chelsea delivered the perfect response to their critics with an emphatic second-half display that crushed stubborn Newcastle at Stamford Bridge.
Newcastle had matched the reigning champions for effort and endeavour in a goalless opening half but strikes from Joe Cole and Hernan Crespo inside four minutes ensured that Chelsea restored their nine-point advantage at the top of the Barclays Premiership. Damien Duff completed the scoring right on the final whistle when his shot was deflected over the luckless Shay Given.
Jose Mourinho, clearly infuriated by his side's recent dip in form, had made a number of significant changes with William Gallas and a partially fit Michael Essien relegated to the substitutes' bench along with winger Shaun Wright-Phillips. There was no place at all in the line-up for Paulo Ferreira.
The Portuguese coach opted to replace the latter with Glen Johnson at right back in what was only his second start of the season, while Ricardo Carvalho slotted into the centre of defence alongside skipper John Terry.
Didier Drogba's suspension was overcome by the choice of a fit-again Crespo as Chelsea looked to banish the defeat to Manchester United at Old Trafford last time out. However, the home side were lucky to escape what appeared to be a valid penalty appeal in the fifth minute when Terry felled Lee Bowyer. But referee Rob Halsey turned down the appeals.
In the seventh minute, Claude Makelele needed lengthy treatment after a dangerously high tackle on former Blue Scott Parker and was replaced five minutes later by Essien. Chelsea survived a second penalty scare in between when Del Horno appeared to handle inside the area as Newcastle gave the champions a few restless moments.
However, Carvalho wasted the clearest chance to opening the scoring in the 18th minute when he rose unmarked in the area only to head Duff's free-kick wide of the target.
Frank Lampard, equalling David James's record of 159 consecutive appearances in the top flight, was unable to impose himself on the game and as a result, Newcastle had more than their fair share of possession in the opening period.
But the critics who claimed Chelsea were beginning to lose a bit of their self-belief would have been heartened by a display that lacked guile and style.
This was not the Chelsea that swept all before it on its way to the first top flight title in 50 years last season. Their performance was a far cry from the team that went 40 matches unbeaten and only occasionally did Chelsea show any signs of their old swagger.
Mourinho resisted the urge to change his personnel during the interval, clearly hoping that his faith in the individuals that had failed to shine in the opening half would repay him.
His judgement was as astute as ever with Cole putting the Londoners in front two minutes into the second half.
Titus Bramble gave the ball away to Eidur Gudjohnsen and the Icelandic striker, playing in a midfield role behind Crespo, slotted the ball into the path of Cole who ran on to despatch a right-foot shot into the corner of the net for his fourth of the season. The goal lifted the gloom surrounding Stamford Bridge and sent the previously mute home fans into full voice.
It was now all Chelsea as the familiar style and panache returned with their confidence and four minutes later they doubled their advantage.
This time the architect was Lampard who provided a trademark pass into Crespo's path after Essien had won the ball in midfield. The Argentine striker checked his run before turning to fire the ball into the top corner to deliver the perfect response to those critics who claim he is unhappy at the club.
It was Chelsea at their very best once more and the fight, so evident in the opening half, had now evaporated from Newcastle's game.
Mourinho made his second change of the game on the hour, again enforced, when he replaced the injured Johnson with William Gallas at right back.
Crespo was replaced by Wright-Phillips with just over 10 minutes of the game remaining as Chelsea continued to exploit the space they were now enjoying.
The home side were content to play the game out to its conclusion with Newcastle demonstrating very little threat in attack to worry Terry or Carvalho.
Indeed, Chelsea had the last word when Duff burst into the penalty area and his shot was deflected over Given for the third.Reuse content