Newcastle United 0 Chelsea 1: Drogba steps in to finish off Newcastle

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The Independent Online

Given that he is such a fierce opponent of footballers attempting to deceive referees, it is often perplexing to see Jose Mourinho's Chelsea teams appear to seek advantage by going to ground at the slightest hint of contact with an opponent. For long periods of last night's tense Carling Cup quarter-final the competition's favourites enraged the St James' Park crowd as players in blue frequently displayed that frustrating propensity for apparent over-reaction.

Ironically, the incident which ultimately decided a predictably hard-fought game between two familiar cup foes was a clear case of foul play as the Newcastle midfielder Nicky Butt crudely halted Arjen Robben's run on goal. The Dutchman already had just cause to go down a second earlier when United's emergency right-back, Nolberto Solano, clipped his heels but, to his credit, the midfielder stayed on his feet.

The referee, Chris Foy, initially played the advantage but correctly punished Butt, and Didier Drogba scored a stunning winner following the resulting short free-kick, played to Michael Ballack, just five minutes after replacing Andrei Shevchenko.

Those Newcastle supporters who voiced their derision at the decision would do well to study this morning's television replays. A closer look at the highlights will also confirm that the United forward Obafemi Martins did not break the deadlock in the 27th minute when his 35-yard shot came down off Hilario's crossbar and bounced off, rather than over, the goal-line.

For Drogba, an unlikely love affair with the Carling Cup continues to blossom. His 17th goal of a prolific season, and his fifth in six games against Newcastle, was as sweet as any he has dispatched since August as he curled a right-footed shot beyond the under-employed goalkeeper, Shay Given.

"Everyone knows how important this competition is for me," he said. "It was the first trophy I won with Chelsea and I scored in the final. Sometimes, as a striker, you have a good period like this. I want it to continue because I want Chelsea to win silverware this season. But if I score then it means Andrei, Arjen Robben and Salomon Kalou have done very well."

Drogba, unsurprisingly, failed to qualify that final comment. Until Robben won his team's decisive free-kick 12 minutes from time he was as culpable as Shevchenko and the lame Kalou in failing to test a Newcastle defence rich in local pride but lacking collective experience at the highest level. As a front three, the Londoners' strikeforce was alarmingly ineffective and it required a weak strike from the substitute Frank Lampard in the 57th minute before Chelsea could lay claim to a genuine shot on goal. Thankfully, as Drogba proved against Newcastle in the Premiership last week, he can be devastatingly accurate where his colleagues are pitifully profligate.

For Newcastle the wait for that elusive piece of silverware goes on. United have tasted defeat just twice in 12 games and both fixtures were decided by the odd goal in Chelsea's favour.

However, the Magpies are not required to face Mourinho's men every week and yet another spirited performance belying the club's lowly League position should infuse the club's fans with renewed confidence, once their misplaced sense of injustice recedes.

For their manager, Glenn Roeder, it seems the healing process may take some time. "Referees have a responsibility to make sure that free-kicks are taken where the incident happened," he said, in criticising Foy's decision to allow Drogba a better view of Given's goal. "I questioned one or two of my players after the match about not recognising that. Nolberto Solano said he asked the referee on a number of occasions to move the ball to where the original incident occurred but he tells me Mr Foy refused to do that.

"We are talking about four yards but that is a big difference at this level in terms of opening up the angle for a player of Didier Drogba's quality. If the free-kick had been taken from where it should have been taken there is no way he could have beaten Shay."

Newcastle United (4-4-1-1): Given; Solano, Taylor, Ramage, Huntington; Dyer, Butt, Parker, Milner (Sibierski, 86); Emre; Martins. Substitutes not used: Srnicek (gk), Edgar, Luque, Rossi.

Chelsea (4-3-3): Hilario; Ferreira, Boulahrouz, Carvalho, Bridge; Essien, Mikel (Ballack, 66), Makelele (Lampard, h-t); Kalou, Shevchenko (Drogba, 73), Robben. Substitutes not used: Hedman (gk), A Cole.

Referee: C Foy (Merseyside).

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