NEWCASTLE, England (Reuters) – Joe Willock’s thunderous second-half goal earned Newcastle United a statement 1-0 win over Chelsea at St James’ Park on Saturday and consolidated third place in the Premier League in their final fixture before the World Cup.
Miguel Almiron cut inside Chelsea defender Kalidou Koulibaly and nudged the ball into the path of the onrushing Willock, who unleashed a powerful first-time effort that flew past goalkeeper Edouard Mendy to bag his second league goal in as many games.
Newcastle had slipped to fourth after Tottenham Hotspur’s victory over Leeds United earlier but regained third place with a fifth straight league win, and will be in the Premier League’s top three at Christmas for the first time since 2001.
Eddie Howe’s side, on 30 points, have lost only one of their opening 15 games, and sit two points behind second-placed Manchester City and one above Tottenham in fourth while Chelsea dropped down to eighth after a third straight defeat.
“There weren’t many clear-cut chances for either team. We felt it was going to be one (deciding) moment and that moment of magic came from Joe Willock,” Howe said.
“It was a very good performance today, a very good game between two very good teams. We pressed really well, our fitness levels are high-class. I’m very proud of the players tonight.
“We’ve put ourselves in a good position to hopefully kick on. The break has probably come at a bad time for us. We’d like the games to continue. There’s more to come from individuals in the team. There are exciting times ahead.”
Newcastle had a penalty appeal turned down after defender Dan Burn’s cross hit Trevoh Chalobah’s flailing arm late in the first half while Chelsea forward Armando Broja registered the only shot on target in an otherwise uneventful opening period.
Five minutes after the restart, Newcastle came close to taking the lead when Joelinton kept alive Kieran Trippier’s cross but Chris Wood was unable to connect and Mendy scrambled away the ball.
Almiron then cut it back for Sean Longstaff, who blazed his effort over the bar, while Wood was inches away from meeting Willock’s fine cross a few minutes later as Newcastle pushed for an opener but lacked a clinical edge.
Chelsea’s Conor Gallagher forced a flying save from Newcastle goalkeeper Nick Pope in the 66th minute as the visitors sprang into life, but any momentum they would have built from their best attack of the game was wiped out by Willock in the very next minute.
“I have been practising shooting in training to be fair. I have been missing scoring in front of these fans so to get a goal today is brilliant for me and the team,” Willock said.
“The manager put in a good game plan and we deserved to win. In the first half we dominated and the last pass wasn’t quite there. We got the goal and the clean sheet.”
(Reporting by Hritika Sharma in BengaluruEditing by Christian Radnedge and Clare Fallon)