Value for money? It might have been if you had invested anything up to £8 for pay-per-view, especially if you have a sadistic streak where goalkeepers are concerned. But if, like Chelsea, you had spent £32.2m on new players during the summer, a home draw against one of the Premiership's middling teams was not the anticipated return.
As Claudio Ranieri, Chelsea's manager, pointed out, Newcastle United's early-season Intertoto Cup campaign made them fitter and more co-ordinated than the home team. That told as the match went on, just as it had at White Hart Lane the day before when Aston Villa were the visitors. But even a full-strength Newcastle are not regarded as one of the Premiership's leading lights and this one was missing five senior players: Alan Shearer, Carl Cort, Gary Speed, Nolberto Solano and Kieron Dyer. Besides, the game should have been beyond them long before their superior conditioning told.
Many viewers were doubtless still fiddling with PIN numbers and credit cards when Shay Given allowed Boudewijn Zenden's shot to squeeze though his arms and legs in the eighth minute to put Chelsea ahead. The London side had plenty of subsequent possession but, with Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink misfiring and Gianfranco Zola fitful, the impressive approach work of Zenden and Emmanuel Petit went to waste. Then, with 14 minutes left, another potential entry for inclusion in a goalkeepers' bloopers video by Ed de Goey allowed Clarence Acuña to level.
With Manchester United, Arsenal, Leeds and Liverpool already two points ahead, how will Chelsea respond? To judge from Ranieri's post-match comments, he would like it to be in typical fashion – by throwing money at the problem.
The club admitted yesterday that they agreed a deal with Liverpool for Robbie Fowler in December only for the player to turn down the move and they could be disappointed again if they resubmitted their bid, now that Fowler's feud with Phil Thompson at Anfield looks over.
Ranieri said it was not down to him, he did not control the finances, but added: "I like Fowler. He is a goalscorer. If he wants to come I would take him. I have four good forwards already, so it would be a problem, but it is a problem I want."
Bobby Robson, for his part, dismissed reports in the Sunday papers that he was interested in Fowler. "I'd like to buy him, who wouldn't?" the Newcastle manager said. "But I don't have the money and we have five forwards already."
One of them, the £10m signing Laurent Robert, looked a good signing. It was his tapped free-kick, from 35 yards, that De Goey could only parry, allowing Acuña to tap in. It was not a complete surprise. From a similar free-kick, after 11 minutes, De Goey's parry had just eluded the Chilean.
"I told De Goey not to worry, it happens," Ranieri said. Robson was similarly sympathetic to his keeper. "Shay apologised at half-time but I told him not to think about it. He's been a good goalkeeper for us."
The goal followed a short corner move and inspired Zenden to give a thrilling display of wing-play which quickly won the hearts of Chelsea fans. Ranieri was loudly booed when he took him off. He later explained it was because Zenden was tiring and he wanted Slavisa Jokanovic on to improve the balance in midfield.
Though Jokanovic played some nice passes from which Petit and Hasselbaink might have won the match, he was unable to break Rob Lee's hold on midfield. Together with Nikos Dabizas he gave Newcastle the platform to withstand Chelsea's early dominance. John Terry, who later hobbled off injured after falling awkwardly, Hasselbaink and Jesper Gronkjaer could have scored in the first period but, said Robson: "We kept our spirit and we kept at it."
Chelsea's attack were not the only ones with early-season teething problems. A "technical difficulty" with the turnstiles in the otherwise highly impressive new West Stand meant a delayed kick-off. There also appeared to be a lot of unsold seats in the £1m Millennium Suites. The general perception though, as with Newcastle, Sunderland, Spurs and several other clubs, is that the building bricks are now in place. It is just the little matter of getting it right on the field which remains.
"It'll take them a while to gel but they'll finish top five,"Robson said of Chelsea, adding: "They have bought well. They have bought players who are not gambles but guarantees." As to his own team the sage of English football added cautiously: "The Intertoto gave us a better rhythm than Chelsea and helped us last the pace. But West Ham, a few years ago, were in a similar position only to hit the wall about November."
Goals: Zenden (8) 1-0; Acuña (76) 1-1.
Chelsea (4-4-2): De Goey 3; Melchiot 5, Terry 5 (Gallas 6, 25), Desailly 5, Le Saux 4; Gronkjaer 3, Lampard 3, Petit 5, Zenden 7 (Jokanovic 6, 64); Zola 4, Hasselbaink 5. Substitutes not used: Stanic, Gudjohnsen, Bosnich (gk).
Newcastle United (4-3-3): Given 3; Barton 5, Dabizas 7, Hughes 6, Elliott 4; Bassedas 4 (Griffin, 84), Lee 7, Acuña 6 (O'Brien, 82); Bellamy 4, Ameobi 4 (Lua Lua 5, 70), Robert 6. Substitutes not used: Harper (gk), Quinn.
Referee: A D'Urso (Billericay) 3.
Bookings: Chelsea: Melchiot, Desailly, Gallas. Newcastle United: Lee, Hughes, Robert, O'Brien.
Man of the match: Lee.Reuse content