Newcastle United 0 Chelsea 2
They say class is permanent and Michael Ballack again gave evidence of that fact as Chelsea kept their slim title hopes alive.
The German midfielder's career at Stamford Bridge has been a slow burner since he arrived from Bayern Munich two seasons ago. In a glittering career littered with medals and international appearances he struggled to settle in England. But since Avram Grant replaced Jose Mourinho as manager in September, Ballack had been reinvigorated just when Chelsea needed it the most.
And no-one can doubt his contribution to the cause in recent weeks.
Ballack followed his brace in the crucial victory against Manchester United by making the breakthrough in the 61st minute at Newcastle. That goal capped an impressive performance by a player who rarely gives the ball away.
Florent Malouda added a second goal in the 82nd minute as Chelsea finally ended a seven-season hoodoo of failing to achieve a victory in the league at Newcastle. But more importantly it means the title race will go down to the wire.
Sir Alex Ferguson's United are still in the driving seat going into the final round of games, given their superior goal difference. They are widely expected to overcome Wigan at the JJB Stadium but Chelsea will be equally confident of beating Bolton at home.
Grant deserves great credit for hauling Chelsea back into the race when at one time they were struggling to gain one of the four Champions League places. Yet with clever tactics and sound man-management he has their fans daring to dream the impossible dream. They also have a Champions League final against United to look forward to in Moscow on May 21 after beating Liverpool in midweek.
Chelsea dug in against Newcastle and raised the tempo in the second half to secure the points. You had to admire their character against a team revived by Kevin Keegan and unbeaten in seven games.
With John Terry outstanding at the back they slowly got a grip on the match after a stuttering start. Certainly in the first half Chelsea did not look as though they were going to end their miserable recent run at St James' Park. Whether it was history or the fact they really needed to win to keep the heat on Manchester United, they were edgy early on.
Grant named an attacking 4-3-3 formation with Didier Drogba, Nicolas Anelka and Malouda up front. Michael Essien, Ballack and John Mikel Obi patrolled the midfield with Frank Lampard and Joe Cole surprisingly not in the starting line-up. And while the England duo looked on from the bench it was fellow international Michael Owen who showed his class.
The Newcastle striker with 12 goals to his credit could have scored a brace before the break. He sent a shot over the top in the sixth minute after a clever chip from Nicky Butt. Then Owen saw his effort 23 minutes later cleared off the line by the alert Terry.
Chelsea never went that close in the first half and Grant was frequently out of the technical area trying to urge his side on.
The second half was a different story and the visiting supporters who made the 600-mile round trip on a Bank Holiday were entitled to feel delighted at making the trip. Terry gave a hint of what was to come in the 54th minute when his towering header came back off the bar.
Seven minutes later Ballack got the goal they craved when he peeled way from his marker to score at the back post following a free-kick from Didier Drogba. Lampard then came on for Anelka and Malouda sealed a superb victory with the second goal eight minutes from time.
No wonder the Chelsea fans raised the roof...the championship is still in the balance.
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