Newcastle showed they have the appetite for a scrap in the bottom half of the table as Isaac Hayden’s dramatic injury-time header earned a vital win against a dominant Chelsea.
Frank Lampard’s side was on top for most of the game but had little to show for it as Tammy Abraham skewed wide from an acute angle and N’Golo Kante’s shot was well saved by Martin Dubravka.
Prior to the winner, it was the hosts who came closest to scoring as Joelinton headed against the bar after Federico Fernandez’s cross after 22 minutes.
But Steve Bruce’s side showed their steel by keeping Chelsea at arm’s length with a resolute defensive display.
And when Hayden headed in Allan Saint-Maximin’s cross past Kepa Arrizabalaga, it sent St James’s Park into raptures as they moved seven points clear of the relegation zone.
Their only worry was an injury to Jetro Willems, who was carried off in the first half.
For Chelsea, it was another frustrating day during a mixed season under Lampard, who took over in the summer.
It was the first defeat since Boxing Day but they will rue another missed chance to improve their top-four claims after also drawing at Brighton earlier this month.
The Blues remain five points ahead of fifth-placed Manchester United, who face Liverpool on Sunday.
But the lack of firepower upfront may sharpen Lampard’s intentions to recruit a striker during the transfer window after being linked with the likes of RB Leipzig’s Timo Werner.
Bruce said prior to the game that he was happy with his squad and would only bring players in during the transfer window if they would improve on his current crop.
And they showed their defensive quality by holding out against a Chelsea side who had 70% possession during the game and created the vast majority of the changes in freezing conditions on Tyneside.
If there was a touch of fortune to the result, Bruce will not care.
His side has been struck by a succession of injuries this season, and he will be delighted that the returning Saint-Maximin created the goal which lifts his side to 12th place in the table.
The result also earned a fourth game unbeaten for the first time this season, albeit with two of those games coming against Rochdale in the FA Cup.
Despite all of Chelsea’s endeavour, it was Newcastle that created the game’s other best chance when Joelinton crashed a header against the crossbar.
With the £40m summer singing breaking a 20-game goal drought by scoring against Rochdale, Saint-Maximin offering trickery on the wing after a hamstring injury and Miguel Almiron scoring in three of the last four games, Bruce may feel his luck is turning.
The cheer that greeted the final whistle underlined how elated and surprised the home crowd were as the hosts earned their first Premier League win since December 21.
Frustrated Lampard rues poor finishing
Chelsea came into the match unbeaten since Boxing Day but it was another game where Lampard’s young side showed their inexperience in front of goal.
Abraham, who has excelled in his first season at Chelsea with 15 goals, was wasteful at times, but there were also missed chances for Mason Mount, who headed over, plus Willian and Emerson, who could not find the target.
Despite their links with a striker during the transfer window and the potential departure of Olivier Giroud to Inter Milan, Lampard has said nothing is “imminent”.
But he showed his frustration on the touchlines as his side failed to take advantage, much as they did in a 1-1 draw at Brighton earlier this month.
Lampard’s faith in youth has drawn praise this season, and while home losses to Bournemouth and Southampton have been countered by away wins against Tottenham and Arsenal, this result will offer the new Chelsea boss plenty of food for thought.
His strict adherence to playing one lone striker may also be something he will consider in games where teams sit behind the ball and try to break as Newcastle did so successfully.
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Source – BBC