It’s hard not to be optimistic as a Newcastle supporter. We used to pull it out the bag on these cup games (pre-Ashley) so why would today be any different? The team was announced and it looked fairly strong – seeing Murphy, Atsu and Diame on the bench reinforced that we had our best players to come on us when things got tough, though of course we’d want to keep them at their fittest for Burnley and Palace this coming week. It would have been nice to have been able to give a few new players a bit of a run around but sadly it’s not the case; I don’t need to hammer home the fact that Ashley hasn’t utilised the transfer window so far in the way we all want.
A strong opening kept optimism high. The fans in the Lower and Upper shed – three thousand strong – were singing and putting the Chelsea fans to shame. It was my first away match, and I was so struck by how little atmosphere there was from the home side. A regular chant of ‘is this a library’ seemed apt.
I cannot understand how a team that does as well as Chelsea does has supporters that are almost all mute. We’re not doing brilliantly at the moment, yet I always leave a match with a croaky voice.
Newcastle had a few opportunities early on in the game, and looked to be matching Chelsea in quality. Two early throw ins close to the box resulted in a couple of lost opportunities when they were chipped too far over, but generally Rafa’s side seemed to be pressing Chelsea and the away end was absolutely behind them.
A Chelsea free kick hitting our wall about 20 minutes in had the toon fans happy, coupled with a strong corner from Shelvey about ten minutes later narrowly missing a goal for us. Shelvey, for what it’s worth, was playing well in the first half, showing himself to be the strongest player we had on the pitch. While Ritchie gave away passes, Shelvey was creating chances. What a shame the momentum didn’t last.
Chelsea scoring shortly after did little to dampen the mood in the Shed. We’ve come back from worse, and with an attempt on target very shortly after the mood was absolutely up. Unfortunately a goal right before half time for Chelsea dampened things slightly, especially as from our side it didn’t look like a goal – Batshuayi sent one past Darlow for the home side and the mood was lowered in the away end.
Going into the second half all was not nearly lost. We needed a goal quite soon, it was clear, but fans rallied and were singing their hearts out. No changes to the starting eleven to start the half; there was a slight shift in the content of the songs being sung to a more ‘Ashley out’ feel as Chelsea clearly outran and outplayed our side. As mentioned, Shelvey was still playing well for Newcastle but the lack of anyone there for him to pass forward to was clear.
Joselu, Atsu and Murphy coming on did little for a side seemingly already resigned to a loss. The totally lacklustre performance from the mags in the last thirty minutes of the game was shocking. I couldn’t believe this was the same team who started an hour ago looking like they’d give Chelsea a run for their money. Those hoping our fortunes would change when Joselu came on, as they have done in recent matches, were unfortunately let down.
A free kick from Alonso shortly before the end brought the curtain down on our FA cup dream. I wish there was more to say about the second half but the reality is there just isn’t. It was the same problem we’ve seen time and again since the end of November; a team without the athleticism and dynamism to keep up with a Premier League side for the full ninety minutes, not to mention one which doesn’t have the resources it needs and deserves. If there’s one positive to take from this, it strengthens the case for a new striker – Gayle up front today was simply not enough. Shelvey remains my man of the match largely for his first half performance – if we could utilise that on Wednesday and take the chances he’s making, we’re in for a great game.
It was a disappointing result for my first away match, but the fabled Newcastle fan optimism is still in me. Living in London it was lovely to be around Newcastle supporters, and I got the same buzz ducking my head under a very poorly made Shed end that I do shuffling to my seat at St James’ Park. I’ve already got my ticket for Palace – so howay, let’s have another go.
Follow Charlotte on twitter: @charlottehope
Charlotte and Norman recorded the podcast which is also available for your pleasure:
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