- Associated Press - Saturday, September 26, 2015

NEWCASTLE, England (AP) - Chelsea needed two late goals to salvage a 2-2 draw at Newcastle on Saturday as the Premier League champions continued to struggle in their title defense.

Spanish striker Ayoze Perez put Newcastle ahead in the 42nd minute and Georginio Wijnaldum headed a second goal in the 60th as a Newcastle side tipped for relegation defied all the odds at St. James’ Park.

But just as Steve McClaren’s men sensed a first league win of the season, Ramires came off the bench to unleash a shot that rocketed into the Newcastle net in the 78th minute.

Chelsea piled on the pressure and equalized when Willian’s free kick in the 86th eluded everyone waiting in the box.

Ramires nearly headed a winner three minutes later, but was denied by goalkeeper Tim Krul, who had produced a series of impressive saves to keep his side in the game.

Chelsea had plenty of possession but Newcastle’s rugged defending kept Jose Mourinho’s side in check until the closing stages, when the hosts were very much on the ropes.

The result left Chelsea with eight points from seven games, eight points behind leader Manchester United, and a lowly 15th in the table.

Newcastle remains second from bottom, with just three points, in what looks like a season-long fight against the drop.

But it all could have been so different for the home side on Saturday.

Newcastle matched Chelsea for commitment and took the lead when Perez struck in the 42nd minute, finishing brilliantly with a shot on the turn after defenders Kurt Zouma and Branislav Ivanovic failed to deal with a cross from the right.

The lapse summed up the defensive problems facing Jose Mourinho’s side this season.

As if it were needed, there was further proof on the hour mark when Wijnaldum was allowed to head home unchallenged from a corner.

Ramires proved to be an inspired substitution, with the Brazil midfielder collecting a square pass from Eden Hazard and blasting home from 25 meters.

Chelsea sensed blood and there was no real surprise when the champions leveled.

Newcastle was conceding a series of free kicks as the hosts tried to keep Chelsea at bay and paid the price when Willian’s floated ball just missed Ramires, but ended up in the net with Krul stranded.

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