A late winner from Didier Drogba kept Chelsea in the Premier League title race, earning the Blues a 1-0 victory Wednesday over Newcastle United at Stamford Bridge.
With the two-time reigning champions struggling to find a way through Glenn Roeders plucky Newcastle team, it was Drogba who came off the bench to seal a much-needed win for Jose Mourinhos men and move Chelsea within five points of league leaders Manchester United.
Although not their most crisp performance, Mourinho was more than pleased with the work of his team, even if they lacked any cutting edge against an injury-ravaged opponent.
"The three points is what counts, and I am very pleased that we got them in the end,'' he said.
The Blues dropped the out-of-form Andriy Shevchenko and gave rare starts to Shaun Wright-Phillips, Saloman Kalou and Arjen Robben. And it was the home side that dominated the early exchanges with the lively Kalou wasting two opportunities before Frank Lampard shot over the bar.
But once the game settled down, Roeders patched-up club were more than a match for a Chelsea side who still look way off the form of Manchester United this season.
Magpies striker Antoine Sibierski almost stunned the Stamford Bridge crowd on 15 minutes when he headed a James Milner corner against the crossbar and then Giuseppe Rossi was narrowly off target with a snap left-foot shot.
But just as optimism and confidence began to stir in the visitors, Roeder was given another injury headache moments before the halftime whistle when Charles NZogbia fell awkwardly and had to be carried off with a knee injury.
Knowing his side were lucky to still be on level terms at the break, Mourinho made a double substitution, sending on Drogba for the ineffective Wright-Phillips, and Claude Makelele for the injured Ricardo Carvalho.
"It was a tough game and in the first half we were not good, so I had to change things,'' Mourinho said. "The second half was much better. We caused them problems and I was pleased with the way the team kept working.''
Drogba almost made an immediate impact when he headed just wide from Robbens cross, while on 58 minutes Newcastle goalkeeper Shay Given did well to block a Robben free kick.
Frustrated by the stubborn Magpies defence, Mourinho then sent on Shevchenko, and it was the Ukraine international who played a key role on the goal on 74 minutes that was to settle this contest.
Robbens cross landed at the feet of Shevchenko, who hit a shot that landed straight at the feet of Drogba just six yards out. Under pressure from the Newcastle defence, the big Frenchman did well to bundle the ball past Given and ultimately secure his club a crucial three points.
Now deflated, the Magpies were lucky not to concede again in the dying moments when Given turned a John Terry header over the bar and then pushed a Robben shot onto the post.
After the game, Roeder admitted that his team were crushed having to walk away from Stamford Bridge empty handed.
"That is a tough result for my players to take because they have played very well here tonight and got nothing,'' he said. "I think anyone would agree that we were the better side during the first half and Antoine was very unlucky with the header. Unfortunately a sloppy goal towards the end of the game has cost us badly.''
Chelsea celebrated three points that they scarcely deserved, but Mourinho knows that luck alone will not win any championships. And even though victory belonged to the Blues, Newcastle may have highlighted that - at least right now - Chelsea do not have title credentials this season. (AP)