Ancelotti facing up to the final curtain
With his face etched in concentrated reflection, Carlo Ancelotti looked as if he suspected this would be his final bow as Chelsea manager at Stamford Bridge.
Some 10 minutes passed between the final whistle blowing in this game and the lap of appreciation Chelsea's manager and his players had promised their supporters, with many who had waited to applaud their fallen champions wondering whether their patience would be rewarded after all.
Such was the length of the delayed return of Ancelotti and his players that a majority of the crowd, who had sat bemused through much of this end-of-season fixture, had left by the time the final chapter of this story was played out. But it was worth the wait for those of us who were eager to assess the mood of a manager whose position has been the subject of so much heated debate for many weeks.
Cheered on enthusiastically by the Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich, Ancelotti struggled to raise a smile as he waved politely to the remaining supporters inside the stadium before he had an opportunity to pause as his stroll arrived back at the tunnel entrance. Still looking stern and with emotion clearly close to the surface, this was a moment he had clearly been thinking about for some time.
Minutes later, this highly-decorated Italian coach was faced with familiar questions from reporters who were convinced this had been his departing appearance at Stamford Bridge, with Ancelotti accepting he is no longer in control of his own destiny at Chelsea.
"I hope I will be here next season, but now we have to wait a week and see what the club will decide," said Ancelotti, who handled the barrage of probes coming at him with typically polished dignity. "You can ask me questions over my future, but the truth must be that I cannot give you any answers.
"Personally, I feel the work I have done in the last two years has been good most of the time, but there have been times when it could have been better. Anyway, we will not have to wonder for much longer how the club feels about my work. If they decide I have not been good enough, I will go, this is football. If the decision is made for me to go, maybe I can explain more about how I feel then, but no meeting is planned to discuss this right now.
"The emotion I felt as I walked around the pitch after this game was all for the fans. They were fantastic to me in the good times and also when things were not going so well. For them, I wanted to say thank you."
It sounded like a farewell eulogy from Ancelotti and if the Italian is to be removed from his post a year after his Double-winning triumph, then his successor can be left in little doubt about what will be expected of him at the end of his first season as Chelsea manager.
Continuity and stability tend to be the common link between most European champions and yet the Russian, whose cash investment has placed Chelsea at the top table of the game, has a very different view of how he intends to reach the promised land, with Ancelotti set to become the latest in a long line of high-profile victims of his unquenchable thirst for success.
Claudio Ranieri, Jose Mourinho, Avram Grant and Luiz Felipe Scolari have all fallen under his ruthless axe over the years since and it seems as if Ancelotti is next to be offered a sizeable severance package as he is ordered to walk away from a club that has thrown up a host of troubling questions in recent months.
How did a team that looked certain to win the Premier League for the first three months of the season collapse in such unfathomable fashion? Did Ancelotti or Abramovich insist on the signing of Fernando Torres in January? And finally, crucially, is another manager about to be blamed for the fact that Abramovich's eighth season at Chelsea is ending without a Champions League trophy to add to his silverware haul?
What cannot be doubted is that something has been lost in a once powerful team who failed to close out a Newcastle side that should have been beaten after Alex headed the home side into a 2-1 lead in the final minutes of the match.
The Chelsea of old would never have allowed Steven Taylor to snatch an injury-time leveller, but Ancelotti accepts this flaw in his side's make-up is the primary reason why they have surrendered their Premier League title. "Something is not right in a team when you concede as many late goals as we have this season," stated the Chelsea boss. "This is a problem we have suffered too often and it has cost us too many points. If we had not conceded these goals, maybe the title could have been ours again, but it is something that needs to be looked at as the focus is lacking in the final moments too often."
Of more concern to Ancelotti or the manager who fills his place next season must be the ongoing horror story that £50 million signing Torres is living through, with this 93 minutes of action as grim as he has suffered in what has been a disastrous start to his Chelsea career.
Giving the ball away time and again, looking short of pace as he chased after long balls and so wild in his shooting that one of his efforts came within an inch of the corner flag, it is hard to believe the Torres of two years ago will miraculously emerge from this broken and desperate figure on the first day of next season.
However, that problem no longer appears to be one for Ancelotti to concern himself with; if the downbeat mood at Stamford Bridge on this penultimate weekend of the season is anything to go by, it seems likely that Chelsea's search for a new manager is already underway.
If rumours are to be believed, several more proven Chelsea winners will follow Ancelotti out of the Stamford Bridge exit door in the next few weeks, though such a radical restructuring may not be necessary for a team that could merely require a gentle tweaking to get it back in the winners' circle.
However, steady progress is not acceptable at a club where one man's desperation for instant glory needs to be satisfied and while most teams in world football would consider a runners-up finish in the Premier League to be a blip on the chart of success a year after a Double triumph, Ancelotti may be about to discover that second best just will not do when you at in charge of Chelsea.
NEWCASTLE VERDICT: Manager Alan Pardew hailed his side's battling qualities as they claimed a deserved draw with their last minute equaliser. "That was one of the most pleasing performances of our season and I felt we fully deserved our point," he stated.
CHELSEA VERDICT: It's hard to know whether Marco van Basten, Frank Rijkaard or even Guus Hiddink could have done a better job than Ancelotti at Chelsea this season. One of that trio may get their chance to answer that little poser in the next few weeks. If it is to be farewell Carlo, this proud and affable man will leave with plenty of good wishes.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Steven Taylor. The Newcastle defender shone as he fended off the advances of Chelsea's attacking stars. He then capped off his fine display with a last minute leveller.
IVANOVIC THE STAR: The young son of Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic stole the show as the players made their way around pitch for their end of season lap of honour. Dwarfed by his oversized Chelsea kit, he entertained the crowd with some tidy ball control and finished his party piece by scoring in front of the Matthew Harding stand. His celebratory fist pump after his moment of glory brought smiles aplenty.