Late and lucky strike

Chelsea striker Salomon Kalou was at least two yards offside as he gathered a pass and prodded in the winner, yet the assistant referee, Mike Cairns, blanked the protests at the award, writes Dominic Fifield.

The game had lurched beyond the hour when Avram Grant, shuffling into his technical area, was treated to a first bellowed chorus of �You don�t know what you�re doing� from the home partisans. Sam Allardyce, standing in the visitors� dug-out as the chant echoed around the arena, might have suppressed a shudder of recognition at the familiarity of the abuse.

This was a role reversal for these two managers. The vitriol directed at the dug-out has been delivered with a Geordie twang in recent weeks, the discontent at a club meandering below its expected station reserved for all things Newcastle United. Yet, during the match the visitors were resilient and effective, qualities usually recognised in Chelsea, with the unrest reserved for the hosts.

The substitutions of Joe Cole and Michael Ballack provoked furious reactions. Grant could justifiably point to an injury to the former and the latter�s lack of match practice but, in ignorance of such niggles, the supporters had revealed simmering frustrations.

The sour mood might have been a rare demonstration of longing for the departed Jose Mourinho. More likely it was a horror of history repeating itself at a critical stage of the season. A year ago a flurry of draws amid a deepening injury crisis cost Chelsea their title. The locals, leading through Michael Essien�s tap-in, had witnessed a side stripped of its core performers ship an unlikely equaliser, Nicky Butt bundling Charles N�Zogbia�s cross over the line.

With Manchester United leading at West Ham at the time, the majority feared the worst. �The fans have been sending me letters reminding me what happened last Christmas,� said Grant. Unlike Mourinho, however, the Israeli ended up benefiting from a timely if outrageous decision that has served to propel his side back into the race.

Allardyce might not have expected a twist this cruel. His side had held their own through the second period when, three minutes from time, Scott Sinclair�s pass found Mikel John Obi with the Nigerian�s shot deflecting off Claudio Pizarro � the controversial substitutes combining � and into the path of Salomon Kalou. The striker was at least two yards offside as he gathered and prodded in the winner yet the assistant referee, Mike Cairns, blanked the protests at the award. He was, said the Newcastle manager, ? gripped by �blind fear.� �This is the kind of luck I want,� conceded Grant.

It was not the kind of fortune Newcastle deserved. With the club owner, Mike Ashley, on holiday, the United chairman, Chris Mort, visited Allardyce in the visitors� dressing room after the game and offered his sympathies in defeat. The manager�s position remains in some jeopardy, though this display was encouraging.

In the circumstances the concession of a ludicrous late winner was distinctly unwelcome. �Sometimes it does maybe feel like the fate�s conspiring against us,� said Allardyce. Asked whether he expected a call of apology from Keith Hackett, the head of the Professional Game Match Officials, he was just as pessimistic. �He might actually pick the phone up to me. I don�t know about whether he�d apologise. But it�s not going to get us any points, though.�

His players were awarded a standing ovation from the travelling support, clearly encouraged by a committed performance. Obafemi Martins might have opened the scoring in the first-half and Shay Given was outstanding throughout. This should be put into proper context � this was a second-string Chelsea side � but the returns of Michael Owen and Damien Duff bode well. Grant must crave the sight of his walking wounded breaking back into a jog.

Florent Malouda had been due to return here but succumbed to a relapse of his knee complaint in the side�s last training session before the match. The Frenchman could be absent for another month now, joining six other first-teamers in the treatment room.

Grant deserves credit for gaining five more points in his first 14 league games in charge, despite the injuries, than Mourinho gleaned from his last 14, but both his scorers here will depart for the African Cup of Nations. �If we�re in the same position as we are now when the players come back from Africa and their injuries, I think we can win it,� added the Israeli. Regardless, his will be a busy January with incoming transfers.

THE RESULTS

December 30: Derby 1 (Oakley 27) lost to Blackburn 2 (Santa Cruz 39, Bentley 42). Half-time: 1-2; Manchester City 0 drew with Liverpool 0.

December 29: Birmingham 1 (Larsson 55) drew with Fulham 1 (Bocanegra 8). Half-time: 0-1; Chelsea 2 (Essien 29, Kalou 87) bt Newcastle 1 (Butt 56). Half-time: 1-0; Everton 1 (Cahill 19) lost to Arsenal 4 (Eduardo 47 & 58, Adebayor 78, Rosicky 90). Half-time: 1-0; Portsmouth 0 lost to Middlesbrough 1 (Sanli 20). Half-time: 0-1; Sunderland 3 (Richardson 13, Jones 32, Murphy 90) bt Bolton 1 (Diouf 41). Half-time: 2-1; Tottenham 6 (Berbatov 7, 63, 73 & 83, Malbranque 76, Defoe 79) bt Reading 4 (Cisse 16, Ingimarsson 53, Kitson 69 & 74). Half-time: 1-1; West Ham 2 (Ferdinand 77, Upson 82) bt Manchester United 1 (Ronaldo 14). Half-time: 0-1; Wigan 1 (Bramble 28) lost to Aston Villa 2 (Davies 55, Agbonlahor 70). Half-time: 1-0.

December 27: Manchester City 2 (Vassell 27, Nelsen o.g. 30) drew with Blackburn 2 (Santa Cruz 28 & 84). Half-time: 2-1.

December 26: Birmingham 3 (Downing o.g. 22, Forssell 45, McSheffrey pen-90) bt Middlesbrough 0. Half-time: 2-0; Chelsea 4 (Shevchenko pen-45 & 50, Alex 66, Ballack 88) drew with Aston Villa 4 (Maloney 14 & 44, Laursen 72, Barry pen-90). Half-time: 1-2; Derby 1 (McEveley 67) lost to Liverpool 2 (Torres 12, Gerrard 90). Half-time: 0-1; Everton 2 (Neville 51, Cahill 70) bt Bolton 0. Half-time: 0-0; Portsmouth 0 drew with Arsenal 0; Sunderland 0 lost to Manchester United 4 (Rooney 20, Saha 30 & pen-86, Ronaldo 45). Half-time: 0-3; Tottenham 5 (Keane 27 & 62, Huddlestone 45 & 71, Defoe 90) bt Fulham 1 (Dempsey 60). Half-time: 2-0; West Ham 1 (Solano 42) drew with Reading 1 (Kitson 60). Half-time: 1-0; Wigan 1 (Taylor 65) bt Newcastle 0. Half-time: 0-0.

December 23: Blackburn 0 lost to Chelsea 1 (Cole 22). Half-time: 0-1; Manchester United 2 (Ronaldo 22 & pen-88) bt Everton 1 (Cahill 27). Half-time: 1-1; Newcastle 2 (Viduka 27 & 87) drew with Derby 2 (Barnes 6, Miller 52). Half-time: 1-1.

December 22: Arsenal 2 (Adebayor 48, Bendtner 76) bt Tottenham 1 (Berbatov 66). Half-time: 0-0; Aston Villa 1 (Carew 14) drew with Manchester City 1 (Bianchi 11). Half-time: 1-1; Bolton 3 (Diouf 72, Anelka 78 & 90) bt Birmingham 0. Half-time: 0-0; Fulham 1 (Dempsey 78) drew with Wigan 1 (Bent 70). Half-time: 0-0; Liverpool 4 (Benayoun 13, Distin o.g. 16, Torres 67 & 85) bt Portsmouth 1 (Benjani 57). Half-time: 2-0; Middlesbrough 1 (Wheater 40) lost to West Ham 2 (Ashton 44, Parker 90). Half-time: 1-1; Reading 2 (Ingimarsson 69, Hunt 90) bt Sunderland 1 (Chopra pen-82). Half-time: 0-0.

� Guardian Newspapers Limited 2007