As he pushed his hands deeper into the pockets of his coat and surveyed the blizzard that engulfed St James' Park yesterday, Jose Mourinho could have been forgiven for thinking that this was what Sir Alex Ferguson meant when he talked about the challenge facing Chelsea in the north of England. In foreboding and inhospitable surroundings, with their fixtures piling up, suddenly his indomitable blue machine had ground to a halt.
Chelsea finished with nine men on the pitch, and of them Damien Duff was a passenger. William Gallas' stride betrayed a slight limp and in goal, after Carlo Cudicini's red card, was Glen Johnson frantically tugging the green jersey over his head. For a Portuguese coach to whom chaos and disorganisation is an anathema, the state of his team at the end of this game must have been some kind of hell.
Chelsea were beaten by a Patrick Kluivert goal on four minutes and all they lost in real terms yesterday was their place in a competition they consider the third most important out of the four they contest. But the collapse of their remarkable assault on an unprecedented four trophies in one season signals something more profound among Mourinho's men: the end of the self-perpetuating confidence born of the belief that they could achieve the seemingly impossible.
Mourinho was phlegmatic, he said he did not want "to cry in defeat", and he protested that his team had been the better despite being reduced to 10 men on 47 minutes when Wayne Bridge was carried off. Nevertheless, he goes to the Nou Camp on Wednesday without Didier Drogba, Arjen Robben and Bridge - and serious doubts about Duff and Gallas - for a match that will again call upon all his managerial cunning.
Chelsea are far from beaten but defeat in the FA Cup, only their second to an English side all season, told Mourinho that his second string will not always be sufficient to swat aside all opposition. For Graeme Souness, this victory came as sweet relief from five months of unrelenting underachievement at Newcastle United. "With Rangers winning as well [in the Old Firm match], I've had a great day," the Newcastle manager said.
That victory was built upon a towering defensive performance by Titus Bramble was hard to believe. Even harder to comprehend was Souness's claim that his gaffe-prone defender was "as good as anybody on his day". But Souness deserved to have his say yesterday, because his side defended valiantly.
The winning goal was only the second that Chelsea had conceded in nine games and there was nothing remarkable about the move that provided Laurent Robert with the ball on the left wing. He clipped a cross in at the near post and, with Gallas slow to react, Kluivert stepped across him to head past Cudicini.
Without Frank Lampard and the suspended John Terry, there was little in Chelsea's attacking play in the first half to trouble Newcastle other than Mateja Kezman's lob from Tiago's deflected cross against the bar on 24 minutes. Even before Newcastle came out for the second half, Mourinho had dispatched the trio of Lampard, Duff and Eidur Gudjohnsen from the substitutes' bench to acclimatise.
It was a bold move by the Chelsea manager, but when Bridge collapsed two minutes into the half it felt potentially disastrous. The left-back was challenged heavily by Alan Shearer, but it was the way in which his left leg folded underneath him that left Bridge motionless on the pitch. He was sent straight to hospital for an X-ray on a suspected broken ankle and Chelsea were down to 10 men.
Even with Lampard taking control of the midfield, Chelsea were restricted to very few chances and were badly exposed at left-back, where only a despairing tackle by Duff stopped Stephen Carr racing on to a through-ball on 74 minutes. Eventually, it was Kluivert's pass to substitute Shola Ameobi in added time that proved Chelsea's last indignity: Cudicini came out to challenge him and, finding himself beaten, brought the striker down.
The red card for the Italian means that he will miss the Carling Cup final and could well have played his last match in a Chelsea shirt. From Robert's free-kick, Chelsea's new goalkeeper Johnson moved quickly to keep the ball out with his feet but by then, even Mourinho seemed to have conceded defeat. "My life is about risks," he said of his half-time substitutions. He will need to take a few in Barcelona.
Goal: Kluivert (4) 1-0.
Newcastle United (4-4-2): Given; Carr, Boumsong, Bramble, Babayaro; Dyer (Milner, 68), Jenas, Butt, Robert; Kluivert, Shearer (Ameobi, 64). Substitutes not used: Caig (gk), N'Zogbia, Hughes.
Chelsea (4-1-3-2): Cudicini; Johnson, Gallas, Carvalho, Bridge; Smertin; Geremi (Lampard, h-t), Jarosik, Tiago (Gudjohnsen, h-t); Cole (Duff, h-t), Kezman. Substitutes not used: Cech (gk), Ferreira.
Referee: M Halsey (Lancashire).
Booked: Chelsea Tiago, Carvalho. Sent off: Chelsea Cudicini.
Man of the match: Bramble.
Attendance: 45,740.Reuse content