Blues keep title dream alive

Blues prove too strong for Magpies

Chelsea ensured the Premier League title race will go down to the last game of the season after a 2-0 win against Newcastle.

Michael Ballack and Florent Malouda were on target for the Blues as they ground out three valuable points at St James' Park.

The first-half was a fairly uneventful affair with both sides struggling to create clear cut opportunities.

Michael Owen saw an effort cleared off the line by John Terry at one end, while Ballack wasted Chelsea's best opening at the other.

Then, with an hour gone, the visitors made the breakthrough when Ballack rose unmarked to nod home a Didier Drogba free-kick.

Avram Grant's side then took control and were able to grab a second through Malouda with eight minutes remaining.

Frank Lampard created the chance with a clever threaded ball, and the Frenchman was able to slide a low effort under the onrushing Steve Harper.

Strong start

The game kicked off with the home crowd knowing the visitors had not won a league game at St James' Park since December 2001, and with the Magpies' relegation fears a distant memory, there was little or no pressure on them.

Michael Essien and Joey Barton were both left limping after an early 50-50, and the Chelsea man was still off the pitch for treatment when the home side got their first chance to threaten from a free-kick.

Newcastle got behind the Chelsea defence with six minutes gone when Nicky Butt collected Jose Enrique's throw-in to feed Owen, who ran away from England team-mate John Terry but lifted his first-time shot high over the bar.

Obafemi Martins failed to trouble Petr Cech with a weak shot after a tricky 10th-minute run, but Habib Beye should have done better after muscling his way past Wayne Bridge four minutes later only to drive his cross harmlessly across goal.

The Magpies were making life uncomfortable for the visitors, but they gradually started to force their way into the game, although Bridge wasted a good opportunity when he blasted a 19th-minute free-kick straight into the wall after Barton had fouled Essien.

Newcastle's pressing game was frustrating Chelsea as they struggled to get star man Drogba into the game, while Nicolas Anelka was seeing plenty of the ball, but wide on the right. Anelka managed to force his way past Nicky Butt on the edge of the penalty area after 27 minutes, but his threaded pass was cut out by Abdoulaye Faye.

But Keegan's men came agonisingly close to taking the lead two minutes later after Martins caused havoc in the Chelsea box.

The Nigerian's chest control allowed Mark Viduka to stab in a shot which Cech blocked, and Owen seemed certain to convert the rebound - but was denied by a superb goal-line clearance from Terry.

Chelsea could have gone ahead seconds later when Essien's pass left Ballack in acres of space inside the Newcastle box, but he sliced his left-foot shot from a narrowing angle wide.

Anelka drilled a long-range effort just off target as the visitors started to increase their tempo, but the home side held firm. Beye got a rare sight of goal in the final minute of the half when Terry could only half-clear Martins' left-wing cross, but the full-back sliced his effort.

Kevin Keegan made a change at the break when Viduka, who has been struggling with an Achilles problem, failed to reappear and was replaced by Alan Smith.

Lampard key

With Lampard and Joe Cole warming up on the sidelines, Chelsea set about the task of trying to force their way ahead once again, and they had a chance when Faye conceded a 50th-minute corner.

Ricardo Carvalho met Malouda's corner under pressure from Faye and Harper, but could not hit the target.

The visitors came desperately close to the opening goal with 53 minutes gone after Steven Taylor was forced to clear hurriedly from Ballack.

Malouda curled the resulting corner to the near post where Terry arrived to thunder a header against the bar - and the home side just about managed to smuggle the loose ball away.

But they were finally breached on the hour when, after Faye had tripped Malouda, Ballack got ahead of Smith to head home Drogba's free-kick.

Lampard joined the fray after 66 minutes as a replacement for Anelka, and was applauded warmly by both sets of fans.

Geremi, who had earlier driven a free-kick from a promising position into the wall, was replaced by Damien Duff after 71 minutes, and his side were almost back on terms twice within seconds.

First Carvalho deflected a Martins shot inches wide with Cech stranded, and then Owen only just failed to get a touch on Nicky Butt's mishit effort in front of goal.

Taylor had to block Lampard's shot at the other end and Harper made a smart save from Ballack's driven follow-up as the game opened up.

Alex replaced the injured Carvalho with 79 minutes gone, but Malouda wrapped up the win with a neat 82nd-minute finish from Lampard's pass.

Newcastle United Team Statistics Chelsea
0 Goals 2
0 1st Half Goals 0
3 Shots on Target 5
8 Shots off Target 9
4 Blocked Shots 5
1 Corners 6
13 Fouls 15
2 Offsides 0
2 Yellow Cards 2
0 Red Cards 0
75.7 Passing Success 83.6
24 Tackles 28
91.7 Tackles Success 71.4
41.9 Possession 58.1
41.1 Territorial Advantage 58.9