Chelsea endured another frustrating afternoon at Stamford Bridge as the Premier League leaders were held to a 0-0 draw by Newcastle on Saturday.
The Blues wasted the chance to consolidate their position thanks to some sloppy finishing and dogged defending from the visitors, and manager Luiz Felipe Scolari must now treat his team's stuttering home form as a matter of some urgency.
Chelsea have now dropped nine points in their west London backyard this term – this was their third league draw, while Liverpool ended their long unbeaten home run last month – and that record has cost them the chance to establish a healthy lead at the league summit.
The damage on Saturday may have been minimised by Liverpool's goalless draw against Fulham, but Scolari will still see this as an opportunity missed.
His team enjoyed possession and territory by the bucket-load against Newcastle but the attacking spark which so often characterises their displays on the road was conspicuous by its absence.
Newcastle, for their part, won few friends with a performance utterly bereft of attacking intent but Joe Kinnear, the manager, will make no apology for that.
The Tynesiders' ambitions stretch little further than avoiding relegation this season so there was never any danger of them over-committing at one of the Premier League's Big Four.
Indeed, their defensive doughtiness was such that goalkeeper Shay Given was hardly called upon to perform heroics. His best save came as early as the eighth minute when Florent Malouda picked out Frank Lampard with a neat chipped cross.
The England midfielder connected well enough but his header was acrobatically palmed aside by Given.
After that, Given was well protected by his back four, while Chelsea's finishing was oddly askew. Sebastien Bassong made a timely tackle on Malouda just as he was about to shoot from 12 yards, but the French forward had an even more inviting chance in the 31st minute.
Jose Bosingwa capped a buccaneering surge down the right with a teasing cross that sailed past Fabricio Coloccini and Habib Beye in the Newcastle back four.
Malouda, all alone at the back post, had only to direct his effort on target to open the scoring but he mis-timed his header horribly, the ball bouncing back across goal and past the right-hand post.
That, however, was as close as Chelsea came in the first 45 minutes and it was Newcastle who ended the half on a high.
A rare break saw Jonas Gutierrez speed down the right but his cut-back was delivered slightly behind the lurking Obafemi Martins and his shot was blocked comfortably enough by Petr Cech.
The visitors' momentum did not last. Chelsea seized back the initiative after the interval and came within a whisker of forging ahead in the 54th minute.
Malouda's shot was palmed into the air by Given at his near post amd as the Irishman fell backwards trying to clear the danger.
Joe Cole followed in to bundle the ball over the line. The England midfielder wheeled away in triumph only for his celebrations to be curtailed by an offside flag.
That stroke of ill fortune did not break the siege and moments later Lampard twice come close to breaking the deadlock.
First the England midfielder fired wide at the near post after tidy approach play from Joe Cole, then his speculative free-kick was almost carried over the line by Given.
Yet, once those chances slipped past, Chelsea appeared to almost lose heart. There was no frantic finish for Newcastle to withstand, although substitute Michael Ballack did shoot into the side-netting, and Chelsea departed frustrated.
- Soccer News Like
- Be the first of your friends!