The whistle blew and the silent, melancholy release began. The most depressing aspect for Newcastle United was that the whistle in question signalled not the end of the game, but its start.
What followed was a 90-minute slow puncture. Saturday never happened for Alan Shearer. The 52,000 turned up, their outer hope not quite transcending inner knowledge, flashbulbs popped and players ran around, but it was Newcastle by numbers. St James' Park, dosed up so many times of late, has become immune to this form of medicine. They are numb.
Visitors to the stadium, Frank Lampard among them, expressed surprise at the absence of Geordie fervour. Lampard said he had expected "a cauldron, and it never quite developed into that". The reason is that Newcastle fans have lost and they know it.
Thousands, tens of thousands, were present on season tickets bought last summer. Even then they were on the last rations of optimism. Contrary to their portrayal as an unthinking rabble – copyright Sky TV – many did not buy into the return of Kevin Keegan, and feared it would go wrong. It did, though that was not down to Keegan, and all the shenanigans since, allied to the recession, means that 10,000, maybe more, will not renew even if Shearer somehow keeps Newcastle up. If he does, Shearer deserves the medal he never won here as a player.
In three days he has encountered a Newcastle team without a soul, a squad he has had to instruct to eat together, a group that was at each others' throats after the previous home game against Arsenal. More mundane, though equally disturbing, was that Shearer saw up close and personal Chelsea's players looking fitter by a margin that should embarrass Newcastle. He has been given eight games to reassemble a mess it might take three seasons to rectify.
Due to the incompetence of neighbours Sunderland, there remains a survival chance and occasionally the likes of Nicky Butt – or this time last season, Michael Owen – have offered reminders of their core qualities.
Just not on Saturday.
Newcastle played significantly better in their previous two home games, against Manchester United and Arsenal, and the anti-Shearer element inside and outside the club are sure to enjoy that. Newcastle took the lead against the champions and equalised against Arsenal, but against Chelsea they turned Petr Cech into a bystander.
Shearer did his best to sound positive afterwards but, when he caught his eye in the car mirror on the journey home into Northumberland, Shearer must have examined the remaining seven fixtures in his head and, if he is honest with himself, thought that Newcastle, this Newcastle, can easily lose four of them.
At Hull and Bolton, Newcastle's last two away displays have been rotten. Next they go to an aroused Stoke on Saturday, then Tottenham. Visits to Liverpool and Aston Villa follow. To repeat: Newcastle have won two away games so far. There is therefore emphasis on home form. Newcastle have not won at St James' in 2009.
When the Chelsea manager, Guus Hiddink, said that Newcastle showed good "morale" by keeping going, he was being kind.
There was the missed "goal" in the 73rd minute when Owen's deflected shot clearly crossed the line before Ashley Cole got to it to clear – and with 17 minutes left that could have made a difference – but a revival would only have come from an adrenalin rush. All round there was a lack of cohesive passing and movement. Obafemi Martins had half-chances in the 20th and 54th minutes, but otherwise the notebook records Steve Harper making saves from Florent Malouda in the 19th and 51st minutes, a poor miss from Nicolas Anelka in the 47th, another one from the substitute Franco Di Santo in the 87th and a Harper block from Salomon Kalou in injury time when the man from Ivory Coast should have scored. Not to omit two Chelsea goals.
Lampard got the first, benefiting from some lazy, unfocused defending from Fabricio Coloccini. Now there's a shock. That was in the 56th minute; Malouda drilled in the second shortly after following the most routine punt from Cech, a knockdown header from Anelka and a pass from Lampard.
The Londoners had left Didier Drogba and Jose Boswinga with the medical staff, Ricardo Carvalho stayed on the bench, while Michael Ballack came off it in the second half to give Michael Essien a rest before Wednesday's anticipated epic at Anfield.
There has been upheaval at Chelsea too, but the contrast with Newcastle was black and white. Shearer did say that he could have two fresh defenders for Stoke, Sébastien Bassong and Steven Taylor. He needs them. One game in as a Newcastle United manager, he needs all the help he can get.
Goals: Lampard (56) 0-1; Malouda (65) 0-2.
Newcastle United (4-4-2) Harper; R Taylor, Beye, Coloccini, Enrique; Gutierrez, Nolan (Guthrie, 69), Butt, Lovenkrands (Duff, 44); Owen, Martins (Carroll, 81). Substitutes not used: Forster (gk), Edgar, Smith, Geremi
Chelsea (4-1-4-1) Cech; Ivanovic, Terry, Alex, A Cole; Mikel; Kalou, Lampard, Essien (Ballack, 56) Malouda; Anelka (Di Santo 68). Substitutes not used: Hilario (gk), Mancienne, Belletti, Carvalho, Deco
Referee: R Styles (Hampshire).
Booked: Chelsea Lampard, Mikel.
Man of the match: Lampard.
Attendance: 52,112.Reuse content