Match Report from Sam Dalling in the away end at Stamford Bridge. 

Chelsea Ref 1 Newcastle United 0, Stamford Bridge, 13/Mar/22, KO:14,00. Att; TBC. 

Bloody hell. That hurt, like, a lot. And that’s very much a positive. Remember when it didn’t? When United rolled over like a puppy obediently offering up its collective belly for all who cared to tickle. When ambivalence had long since tapped-in for anger. It really wasn’t too far back.

Not anymore. Not this version of Newcastle. Sure, ten unbeaten would have been lovely. As would an old-school away point, earned through just the right amount of dark magic and shit-housery. That it was within touching distance only makes it that bit more galling.

A minute on the clock, and certainly from the away end, the sense was enough had been done. Time had ticked slowly for a half an hour or so, United clearly feeling an afternoon’s running in the legs.  But plenty of crisp Chelsea passing had brought little of substance. Fouls, and lots of them, made for a bitty ninety. It was almost perfect.

Then Kai Havertz struck, one real moment of exceptional showmanship. Jorginho’s pass was pinpoint, Havertz’s touch extraordinary, and the finish poked into the net. Thomas Tuchel could not hide his delight, bounding down the touchline punching the air. That speaks volumes.

It was cruel on United, cruel on Dan Burn who lay frustrated assaulting the turf, and cruel on Eddie Howe who had tactically matched his opposite number. Until that point there had barely been the whiff of a breach, bar the odd Jamaal Lascelles wobble.

Burn, like Howe and most of those watching on, will feel Havertz ought to have been bathed and re-suited well before he grabbed the winner. His first-half elbow had caught Burn, drawing first blood and then Burn’s post-treatment rage. To call it stray is wrong – it landed exactly as aimed.

Official David Coote – a man with all the authority of a supply teacher covering woodwork – deemed it a yellow. VAR can only intervene if the error is “clear and obvious”. Apparently, it wasn’t, and so round in circles we spin. The logical solution is ditching the current parameters and aim for “right or wrong”. There will always be subjectivity but making the VAR official part of the team, rather than the equivalent of a workplace compliance officer, will surely help.

Coote also failed to award United a second-half penalty when Jacob Murphy got the better of Trevoh Chalobah. Clearly desperate to add a toon shirt to his mantelpiece collection, what’s best described as heavy tugging from Chalobah was seemingly not foul-worthy. Watch it and make your own mind up.

Chelsea’s quality is obvious. The depth of squad, the touch, the extra split second. That showed with the goal, something of nothing. But with the right tactics they can be nullified, and that is both what Howe set out to do and did. The social media hysteria re: team selection proved unfounded. Trust. Not a word associated with the management in recent times but there needs to be some now.

If Eddie decides to rotate, arguably even prioritise Everton on Thursday, that’s ok. Simply enjoy pro-activity over reactivity. And if he decides 5 at the back is the way to go, who are we to argue?

It allowed Murphy and Miguel Almiron to press Chelsea’s wingbacks in high areas, knowing there was defensive cover. For large parts, it effectively.  Likeable as that pair are though, sadly neither is a particularly good footballer. Both lack the technical and mental quality to make them long-termers. Watching Burn and Matt Targett excel again only reinforces how much naff-ness has been tolerated.

That said, Almiron did come closest to netting for United. In first-half stoppage time Javier Manquillo bought a relatively low-priced free kick on the Chelsea left. Targett’s whipped set piece was half cleared and Miggy (yep, the one with the sub-optimal technique) watched carefully and met it with a vicious left-footed volley. Édouard Mendy shifted left and palmed away, Fabian Schär’s follow-up only just remaining in Stamford Bridge.

Inevitably there was references to cash – or a lack of access to it – from what was another buoyant travelling contingent. “Mike Ashley, he’s coming for you” was superb. The right side of the line. “Geordie boys on a bender, Abramovich war offender” was the wrong side. Significantly so. For a start, Chelsea’s whatever-he-is-now’s name doesn’t fit but that’s the least of it. This is no place for a politics lesson, nor moral philosophising. But two points: 1) those in glass houses and 2) the reason the Government is interfering with private money is so horrific, so far beyond acceptability and so current that it simply is not funny.

Back to on-field matters. Bruno Guimarães was seemingly everywhere until he inevitably tired, flashing just past the post early in the second. His yellow was for a hack was both cynical and risky. Almiron ended the day as he spent most of it; off-fucking-side. And his removal allowed Allan Saint-Maximin 20-odd largely anonymous minutes.

Romelu Lukaku had a similarly low-key cameo. The size of him is always a surprise. He’s vast, carrying a bulk that defies his speed. There’s a sadness in his eyes though. Not unlovable but certainly unloved. Maybe?

The hosts had a penalty shout of their own when Timo Werner was set away by Mason Mount. He rounded Martin Dubravka and went down. Much to the merriment – or the relief – of United fans, up went the flag.  That aside, Dubravka spent the afternoon untroubled pre-winner. There was just a glancing header straight at him from Havertz.

Remember these are the reigning European, nay world, champions. United arguably missed their entire first choice front six (if one accepts Bruno is probably 12th man in the short term). Ryan Fraser did not enter until stoppage time, while Chris Wood, whose control was at times atrocious, is certainly not the prime forward. He is frying steak; passable when chucked into a dish with other more flavoursome ingredients but certainly not a main of itself.

Time for a new run. Remember the feeling, re-familiarise yourself with it. Newcastle United will be defeated but shall always compete. Let them have this one. After all, they might not be back for a while.

Sam Dalling – @sammyd767