At half-time the crowd were urged to raise money for the Royal British Legion by participating in an auction to win “match worn” signed shirts streaked with mud, sweat and, in the case of Newcastle’s players, quite possibly tears.
No prizes for guessing whose top Chelsea fans would bid most money for. Reece James’s two second-half goals allowed Thomas Tuchel’s Premier League leaders to translate dominance into points as they left Newcastle stuck in the bottom three and still seeking their first win of the season.
“We don’t need to do shooting exercises in training with Reece, he shoots like a horse,” said a delighted Tuchel as his wonderfully cohesive team passed and moved three points clear of second-placed Liverpool. “It was an excellent performance but we have a long way to go.”
The home side’s new Saudi-led owners will surely park their tanks on Chelsea’s lawn one day but, more immediately, almost Newcastle’s entire armoury needs restocking. The immediate, extremely urgent, task facing Roberto Martínez, Erik ten Hag, Lucien Favre, Frank Lampard, Paulo Fonseca, or whoever is eventually appointed as Steve Bruce’s successor, will be to steer the team clear of relegation.
Bruce gave Newcastle’s players plenty of days off but Graeme Jones, his caretaker successor, believes they are better off being drilled on the training ground. There have apparently been no complaints about the resultant recent lack of time off from a team which, initially at least, showed off some impressive resilience and organisation while absorbing considerable Chelsea pressure.
Admittedly there were some ominously panicked clearances in the direction of row X but despite Tuchel’s side monopolising possession, a series of important blocks from Jamaal Lascelles ensured that, albeit only for a while, Karl Darlow’s goal proved surprisingly well protected.
Jones’s problem was that, with Newcastle offering negligible threat from open play and Callum Wilson and Allan Saint-Maximin regularly dropping back into midfield, Édouard Mendy had even less to do.
It dictated that a set piece seemed the home side’s sole realistic route to goal and offered Chelsea reason to believe that a combination of their inventively intelligent off-the-ball movement and almost inevitable defensive concentration lapses would eventually lead to that ostensibly formidable black and white wall collapsing into a pile of bricks.
As half-time beckoned, such visiting optimism was boosted as Hakim Ziyech curled a shot beyond Darlow only to see that effort disallowed for offside before missing a routine chance to side-foot past Jones’s goalkeeper after Kai Havertz flicked on James’s cross.
Not that Tuchel looked remotely satisfied. As the minutes passed the Chelsea manager’s technical area body language reflected mounting shades of exasperation at his side’s failure to overcome a Jones gameplan big on low blocks and long balls.
As if already being without the injured Romelu Lukaku was not bad enough, Tuchel could have done without Mason Mount having been sent back home to London after feeling unwell in the team hotel on Friday night.
As the second half began Chelsea fans probably felt James’s crossing had not been up to his customary standard. Before long though, that seemed hair-splitting pedantry as the right wing-back finally raised the tone, giving his side the lead courtesy of a stunning, high velocity, rising shot arrowed into the roof of the net with a sniper’s precision.
After meeting Callum Hudson-Odoi’s cross, James cut inside and checked on to his supposedly weaker left foot before driving a stake through Newcastle’s collective heart.
With Geordie morale plummeting by the second James deployed his right foot to score a similarly unstoppable second goal. This time Ciaran Clark succeeded in partially blocking Ruben Loftus-Cheek’s shot but the fallout rebounded for the man of the moment to positively lash the ball home with Darlow wrong-footed.
Next Newcastle’s goalkeeper hauled Havertz down, precipitating Jorginho scoring Chelsea’s third from the penalty spot with a rather nonchalant chip.
Meanwhile Javier Manquillo’s snatched, non-menacing, 84th-minute effort represented Newcastle’s solitary shot on target.
The depression engulfing St James’ Park ran so deep that even the news, broadcast over the sound system at the final whistle, that Sunderland had conceded five goals at League One Rotherham barely raised a cheer.
“You’ve got to remember we were up against the Champions League winners and for 65 minutes we were right in the game,” said Jones. “But the manner of our reaction after the first goal was disappointing. It was a very difficult afternoon.”