Carlo Ancelotti has done well to make it to the final home game of a trophy-free campaign.
Newcastle spoil Ancelotti's likely farewell at Stamford Bridge
Chelsea 2 // Newcastle United 2
LONDON // Farewell then to Carlo Ancelotti. A double-winning manager at Chelsea, a double Champions League-winning coach elsewhere. A dignified, wholly likeable, man with an admirable sense of perspective. Not good enough, though, for the Grand Tsar of Stamford Bridge.
The official execution is still to take place, yet the owner Roman Abramovich long ago swung a well-used axe. Ancelotti has done well to make it to this final home game of a trophy-free campaign.
Throughout the barren run that followed the dismissal of the assistant Ray Wilkins, and after the Champions League quarter-final defeat at Old Trafford to Manchester United, the Italian wondered how many games he had left. It has, however, been a matter of when, not if. That is why Rafa Benitez could ensconce himself on Chelsea's table at last week's Football Writers' Awards ceremony and push his case for becoming their next manager in front of the man he would like to replace.
Good luck to the next manager. Guus Hiddink is wanted back, but his own interest is in a technical director's role. Whether he will be allowed to exit his present position as Turkey national team coach may depend on results. Should Turkey lose next month's Euro 2012 qualifier in Belgium, Hiddink's employers should be easier to deal with.
Ancelotti's final home engagement reprised his season's first falter. Sending out a semi-reserve side against Newcastle United in September provoked an immediate exit from the Carling Cup, underlining the weaknesses of the squad Ancelotti had been asked to work with.
Here, the Italian made a telling raft of changes. Out went six starters from last Sunday's loss at United. In came Fernando Torres, Yossi Benayoun, Ramires, Alex, Nicolas Anelka and Josh McEachran, making his first start since January.
In a game that offered more to a Newcastle side pursuing over £4 million (Dh23.8m) of potential Premier League merit payments for their final placing in the table, Chelsea scored immediately.
Torres flicked Frank Lampard's corner onto Branislav Ivanovic, who turned the ball in before turning to credit the striker.
The lead did not last long. Caught out for pace and position, John Terry was cautioned for studding Peter Lovenkrands. Ryan Taylor's stuttering free kick appeared unthreatening until it cannoned off Jonas Guttierez's backside and in. With double cheek, the Argentine claimed it.
After a slow-paced, tetchy second half, Chelsea recovered their advantage from another Lampard set piece. Delivered from deep, Tim Krul threw an arm at the free kick but could not keep it from the head of Alex. It still was not enough.
Newcastle forced an injury-time corner, Ryan Taylor picked out Nile Ranger at the back post and Steven Taylor finished off.
"One of the most enjoyable goals I can think of," said Alan Pardew, the Newcastle manager, who had handed a debut to Sam Ameobi and employed the youngsters Shane Ferguson, Kazenga LuaLua and Nile Ranger.
At full time, Ancelotti stood silent by the tunnel as half his players trooped by. Then came Chelsea's end-of-season lap of honour, the Italian quietly waving to the home support.
"Everyone can give an opinion about my job here," Ancelotti said. "It is the club that has to take a decision and judge my job. If my job was good, I will stay. If they think it was not good, I will have to go. In my opinion, sometimes I did a good job, sometimes I could do better.
"I want to say thanks to our supporters. Today, also, they gave me fantastic support. My emotion? I don't know what happens and I want to wait. After that I can explain."
Abramovich, unfortunately, never will.