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Ballack and Malouda keep Chelsea in title hunt

SoccerNews in English Premier League 5 May 2008

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Chelsea ensured the English Premier League title race will go to the final game of the season as second-half goals from Michael Ballack and Florent Malouda sealed a priceless 2-0 victory at Newcastle United.

German international Ballack put the visitors in front in a tense encounter as he rose to head home Didier Drogba's 60th minute free-kick, controversially awarded for defender Abdoulaye Faye's challenge on Florent Malouda.

Malouda deservedly sealed the points eight minutes from time after a slick passing move involving Michael Essien, substitute Frank Lampard and Ballack released the midfielder to slot his fourth goal of the season past exposed Newcastle keeper Steve Harper.

Leaders Manchester United remain strong favourites to retain their crown, and only need to match Chelsea's result against Bolton Wanderers when they travel to Wigan Athletic on Sunday to bring the curtain down on the campaign with their 10th title in 16 Premier League seasons.

Chelsea were made to fight hard and show all their reserves of character to stretch their five-month unbeaten league run to an impressive 20 games.

And it was only after the break when the visitors threw off the self-imposed shackles of an ultra-cautious approach from manager Avram Grant which saw 19-goal top scorer Lampard only introduced for the final 25 minutes.

Skipper John Terry's near-post header from a Malouda corner crashed back off the crossbar early in the second-half as the Londoners finally started to show their attacking intent in a game they really had to win to retain any hope of a third English title in four years.

It was a change of approach which finally bore fruit shortly afterwards as Ballack made up for a glaring first-half miss to glance in the first goal Newcastle have conceded at home in more than two months.

Despite surrendering their seven-game unbeaten run, Kevin Keegan's side pushed their visitors all the way, and might have taken a two-goal advantage into the interval with a little more luck.

After volleying over when well placed early on, Michael Owen saw Terry clear his shot off the line shortly before the half-hour after Chelsea keeper Petr Cech did well to block a powerful Obafemi Martins shot as a swift Newcastle counter-attack caught Chelsea short of numbers at the back.

In a first-half of few clear openings, Ballack wasted Chelsea's best chance, chipping wide with a disappointing finish after Essien's pass found the unmarked midfielder just 10 yards out with time and space to compose himself.

Owen and Martins both went close for Newcastle after the break, but Keegan's side were less of an attacking threat after losing injury-prone striker Mark Viduka at half-time to a knee problem.

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