This was one of the best games of the season, a marvellously entertaining and eventful contest between two well-matched sides. Whether that flatters Newcastle or Chelsea most is a moot point, given their respective positions in the table, though it would appear the home side's latest top-up of French talent has restored the feelgood factor on Tyneside. That was true even before Moussa Sissoko rifled home a last-minute winner. That sort of finale always send a crowd home happy, though even before that Newcastle had shown guts to climb back into the game at a point in the second half when Chelsea looked capable of running away with it. While it is not quite true these days to say not many teams come back against Chelsea, few will manage it when the Blues are playing this well.
"It was an unbelievable game, I'm not sure I can remember one as good," Alan Pardew said. "We were hit by two unbelievable goals too, but we were not to be denied. To play so well against a team as good as Chelsea will give this place a real lift."
With two goals on his home debut, Sissoko proved an instant hit, as well as looking an absolute steal at £1.8m, though Newcastle were so wasteful in the first half that Pardew must half been preparing an interval pep talk on the importance of turning pressure into goals until Jonás Gutiérrez relieved the situation with a lovely header four minutes before the break.
It was not that Newcastle were not creating opportunities, it was the fact they were missing gilt-edged invitations to score that was visibly driving their manager wild. Papiss Cissé was foiled by a decent save from Petr Cech midway through the first half, though with only the goalkeeper to beat from a good position it was hardly the clinical finish we have come to expect from the Senegal striker. Sissoko should have done better than shoot too high after half an hour, then Cissé squandered the best chance of the lot, again allowing Cech to save when the ball dropped perfectly for him near the penalty spot.
It appeared the home side might be in for a frustrating afternoon, though the goal they eventually scored was not only high quality it was a superb finish from a player who is not a prolific scorer. Much of the credit should go to Davide Santon for an excellent right-foot cross from the left wing, one that Gutiérrez attacked with much more conviction than Gary Cahill or John Terry, beating the latter to the ball to send a glancing header into Cech's bottom left corner.
Not even Chelsea fans could deny that a goal had been coming, and the visitors were hardly cheered by the simultaneous forced departure of Demba Ba with a bloodied nose. Naturally the Chelsea striker received scant sympathy from his former public after receiving an accidental boot in the face from Fabricio Coloccini, though his former manager could afford to be diplomatic. "He's not a bad looking boy, but I think he might be needing a bit of surgery," Pardew said. "He was having a good game."
Rafa Benítez was predictably less generous, and might have had a point. "It should have been a penalty and a red card," the Chelsea manager said. It certainly could have been, though like the player he injured, Coloccini was going for a loose ball at head height after Tim Krul had kept out Ba's initial shot, and did not have his opponent in direct view. "It had to be dangerous play," Benítez argued. "A broken nose and five minutes of bleeding is evidence."
Chelsea can also score spectacular goals from midfield, and the reliably prolific Frank Lampard came up with one of his very best to level early in the second half. Not much looked on as Ashley Cole took a throw in on the left, indeed the full-back hesitated when the ball was returned to him as if he could not see a pass worth making, but once he chipped the ball inside to Lampard, a sublime turn past Yohan Cabaye transformed a static situation and no sooner had space opened up than Krul was being beaten by a venomously dipping, early shot from just outside the penalty area. Seven minutes later, after Lampard had headed straight into Krul's arms from Juan Mata's teasing cross, Chelsea were in front. Again the finish was of the highest quality, Mata taking a short pass from Fernando Torres and striking a curling shot from the angle of the area so sweetly that he was wheeling away in celebration before the ball had even crossed the line.
Now it was Newcastle's turn to show character and they duly hit back with an equaliser. Yoan Gouffran showed a turn of speed to outstrip the Chelsea cover, and though his shot never seemed likely to beat Cech, Sissoko was on hand to tuck away the rebound with a calmness that ought to have made Cissé blush.
Not for the first time in the pandemonium peculiar to this ground, inflamed passions spilled over to the technical areas, where a heated argument broke out between the two sets of coaching assistants shortly after the fourth goal. Directly after the third goal Cissé and Cole had both been booked for unnecessarily squaring up to each other, but peace had broken out by the time Santon set up his second goal of the afternoon, this time with a simple square pass inside the area that Sissoko emphatically thumped home.
Never think St James' Park cannot possibly get any louder, because it always can. All it takes is something worth cheering.