Hughton hails 'fearless' Carroll for adding to Chelsea turmoil

Newcastle 1 Chelsea 1
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The Independent Football

The mercury plunged below zero at an arctic St James' Park but the heat remains on Carlo Ancelotti and his out-of-sort champions. Given the mitigation of a makeshift defence, some doughty opponents and a start of nightmarish proportions, a case could be made for this being an encouraging point in hostile, freezing conditions.

Credit where credit is due, they dredged up spirit and resolve to recover from Andy Carroll's gift-wrapped sixth-minute opener, and were the team firmly in the ascendancy for much of the second half.

But however you spin this engaging, fiery draw, something about Chelsea just isn't right at the moment. Be it the loss of John Terry's buccaneering spirit or Frank Lampard's midfield sophistication, the momentum that catapulted them to the title last year appears to have vanished.

Knocked off their Premier League perch for the first time since 3 April, this was their chance to respond and banish some of the bad vibrations that have been emanating from West London this past month.

That they couldn't respond in time-honoured fashion raises fresh questions about Ancelotti's future.

To make matters worse, a post-match blizzard saw them scrambling for a bus after their flight back to London was cancelled. Grounded in every sense of the word.

Newcastle certainly deserved this point. Shorn of five first-team regulars and fielding a centre-half partnership made up of two players making their first Premier League appearances of the season, they were lively, spirited and inventive. Coming off their own nadir – a 5-1 defeat at Bolton – they looked keen to atone from the start.

Sensing a weakness in their opponents they pressed Chelsea high up the pitch, carving out a succession chances for their burgeoning England number nine, who lived up to the hype by causing continual problems for a lop-sided visiting defence throughout.

But their high-octane first half took its toll, and the Chelsea of old would have exploited weary Newcastle limbs. This being Roman Abramovich's Chelsea, a run of five Premier League games without a win leaves Ancelotti exposed to a Siberian blast much more serious that anything the North East's latest cold snap could hurl at him.

Waking to reports that Pep Guardiola was top of Abramovich's wish-list to replace him — speculation dismissed as "total nonsense" by Chelsea — Ancelotti needed a start bristling with conviction and menace. What he got was a team that all too easily prodded the self-destruct button.

As early as the second minute Newcastle could have drawn first blood — Steven Taylor directing a Wayne Routledge cross goalbound only for Petr Cech to parry the ball wide.

A warning, but one that Chelsea hadn't heeded. Bursting forward from midfield, Newcastle seemed to have lost momentum when Jon Obi Mikel checked the run of United's midfielder Cheik Tiote.

But Alex, clearly struggling with a knee injury, inexplicably rolled the ball past his goalkeeper and into the grateful path of Carroll, who swept home.

Chelsea's response came from the familiar boot of Didier Drogba, who hammered a close range shot against the side netting, and Nicolas Anelka, who saw his looping header hacked off the line.

Newcastle, though, stood firm until the stroke of half-time when Soloman Kalou twisted past Sol Campbell before firing a deflected shot past Tim Krul.

Cue the deluge? Sort of. Chelsea bossed the second-half possession but a couple of Drogba shots aside, failed to turn the screw on tiring opponents.

Even Kalou, their best performer here, miscued when presented with an open goal after wriggling past the otherwise indomitable Campbell in the 80th minute.

In fact, had it not been for Ashley Cole things could have been much, much worse. After a melee in the Chelsea box the ball was squeezed to Routledge, and his whipped, curling 25-yard shot was heading into the top right-hand corner of the goal until Cole headed clear.

By then they had run out of gas, and Newcastle's point had been proven.

Well clear of the relegation scrap and looking to have more than enough to stay up, it is a wonder why Chris Hughton has not been rewarded with a long-term contract. But, to his credit, he continues to let his team do the talking for him.

"It was a good point and it was the response I wanted — it was the only type of response we could have," Newcastle's manager said. "It wasn't like us to concede the goals we conceded against Bolton and I think we showed what we were made of out there."

Carroll, once again, was at the forefront of everything they did. Aside from his goal he delivered a performance that bristled with menacing intent, and when pressed into defensive duties at the end didn't let anyone down.

"That is Andy. He's not someone who is fearful of any opposition or individuals," Hughton said. "That's how he is at the moment.

"When you're in a confident mood and you're scoring goals that's how it should be. You should look forward to every game and you should think every game is an opportunity to score."

If only the same could be said about any of Chelsea's battle-weary troops.

Substitutes: Newcastle Ranger (Ameobi, 77) Unused Soderberg (gk), Perch, Kadar, Smith, Lovenkrands, Best. Chelsea Sturridge (Mikel, 80) Unused Turnbull (gk), Ferreira, Van Aanholt, Bruma, McEachran, Kakuta. Booked: Newcastle Guthrie, Tiote. Chelsea Ramires.

Possession Newcastle 43% Chelsea 57%. Shots on target Newcastle 3 Chelsea 13. Man of the match Carroll. Match rating 7/10. Ref A Marriner (West Midlands) Att 46,469