Chelsea held at Newcastle to leave United top

London: Chelsea`s Premier League title defence continued to splutter when they could only draw 1-1 at Newcastle United and missed their chance of returning to the top of the standings.

Having lost three of their last four league games Chelsea fell behind again after six minutes when Andy Carroll took advantage of a misplaced backpass by Alex.

The champions levelled through Salomon Kalou at the end of the first half but though they were on top for most of the second period they struggled to create clear chances.

Manchester United, who hammered Blackburn Rovers 7-1 on Saturday with five goals by Dimitar Berbatov, remain top on 31 points with Chelsea and Arsenal, 4-2 winners at Aston Villa, both on 29.

Manchester City are fourth on 26 after being held to a 1-1 draw at Stoke City while sixth-placed Tottenham Hotspur host Liverpool later on Sunday (1600).

Having worked all morning to clear the pitch and surrounding areas of snow, Newcastle were rewarded with a gift opener when Alex`s ill-judged backpass rolled beyond Petr Cech and Carroll nipped in to tuck the ball into an empty net.

Newcastle pushed on well for the next 20 minutes but Chelsea forced their way back into the game and levelled at the end of the first half when a lovely flick by Florent Malouda sent Kalou through. His shot was deflected past the keeper by defender Danny Simpson.

Newcastle came close to restoring the lead after an hour when, with Cech stranded, Wayne Routledge lashed in a shot that Ashley Cole superbly headed off the line.

Chelsea were the more dominant side but struggled to create much more than half-chances.

Drogba had the ball in the net after 77 minutes but the whistle had already sounded for handball while Kalou somehow missed from two metres out moments later and Daniel Sturridge dragged a shot wide five minutes from time.

"They had the ascendancy but credit to every one of our players," Newcastle manager Chris Hughton told reporters.

"We knew we had to dig in and got to a stage where, if you can ever be a little bit comfortable against the quality they have, we ended up being a touch comfortable."

Chelsea boss Carlo Ancelotti said: "We had a bad start but after that it was a good reaction and the performance was good but we have to do better up front.

"In three away games we`ve scored just one goal and that`s not enough.”

"It`s not a good moment, we`ve lost the top of the table. We have to improve, it is not enough now what we are doing."

Bureau Report