NEWCASTLE, April 4 – Alan Shearer was unable to inspire Newcastle in his first game in charge as Chelsea emerged with a comfortable 2-0 victory to keep their Premier League title hopes alive.
New manager Shearer quickly discovered the magnitude of the task he faces to ensure his hometown club retain their top flight status as this latest defeat leaves them anchored in the bottom three with just seven matches of the season remaining.
Two goals in nine second-half minutes sealed a deserved win for the visitors, who closed the gap on Manchester United to a single point.
Frank Lampard broke Newcastle resistance in the 56th minute, the England midfielder heading the ball into an empty net after a mis-hit drive from Nicolas Anelka came back off the bar – as Chelsea kept up the pressure at the top of the table.
Florent Malouda sealed the win after 65 minutes. Anelka flicked on a long clearance from goalkeeper Peter Cech to Lampard, whose ball released the midfielder to slide his shot past a stranded Steve Harper and leave Newcastle without a home victory for approaching four months.
Michael Owen had a deflected late effort cleared off the line by Ashley Cole – TV replays suggested the ball was in – but that was as close as Newcastle came to marking the start of Shearer’s reign with a goal.
The new manager probably feared the worst when Blackburn’s dramatic late come-from-behind victory over Tottenham in the lunch-time kick-off increased the pressure on his side as the gap to safety grew to three points before they had even kicked a ball in anger.
Almost three years to the day since injury brought a premature end to his playing career, in front of a rare St James’ Park full house of 52,000 the new manager took his seat in the dug-out to a predictably rapturous reception.
With Owen the only unenforced change, Shearer handed a vote of confidence to a struggling side which went into the game with just one victory in its previous 14 games. Sadly for the Toon Army, it wasn’t to be repaid.
In a predictably nervy opening almost 20 minutes had passed before either team carved out a clear opening, and it was Chelsea, improving after a slow start, who came close to breaking the deadlock.
England full-back Cole made strides down the Chelsea left before delivering an inviting cross for Salomon Kalou.
The striker’s deft header from 12 yards was heading for the bottom corner, until a fine low save from Harper deflected the ball to safety.
Newcastle hit back inside 60 with their best chance of a first-half lacking in clear-cut openings.
Obafemi Martins, arriving at the near post six yards from goal, came close to deflecting home a low centre from the left from full-back Jose Enrique.
Shearer’s edgy defenders had clearly not learned their lesson as Chelsea began to show signs of life to stretch their hosts again on the half-hour.
Anelka looked certain to open the scoring as he sprinted clear but the speedy Frenchman was thwarted by a stunning last-ditch challenge from emergency centre-back Habib Beye.
The interval failed to stop Chelsea’s flow. Five minutes after the restart, Malouda, taking a slick pass from John Mikel Obi, turned in a flash inside the box to fire a shot which bounced off Harper’s chest and away to safety.
Anelka was then put clean through by Malouda’s intelligent lofted pass into the area, only for the striker’s first touch to let him down.
It wasn’t long however before Lampard and Malouda showed the forward how it should be done in front of goal.
The busy Harper prevented Kalou claiming the third from close range in injury time, but it was still the toughest of baptisms for Shearer.