Newcastle’s relegation day 15 months ago was one of the oddest I can remember. With their demise already confirmed the Toon Army showed up for a party confident in the knowledge that in Rafa Benitez they had the man to take them straight back up and had he taken over from the hapless Steve McClaren earlier they’d have survived. Last season proved them right.
On that day last May Newcastle demolished a crestfallen Spurs side 5-1, the Londoners season having come to an abrupt halt in the final weeks of the campaign after their title bid fell short. So this match was always going to be about how far both sides have come. Both have endured frustrating transfer windows but it was pretty evident today it’s Newcastle who have the greater need for fresh blood.
After an early Dwight Gayle shot, Tottenham quicky assumed control with Mousa Dembele and Christian Eriksen pulling Newcastle’s midfield around the park. For the rest of the first half Newcastle were content to sit deep and win the occasional set piece on the break.
Newcastle’s deep defence had the effect of nullifying Harry Kane and restricting Spurs to a handful of pot shots from Eriksen and Newcastle saw out the first period 0-0.
Aside from the constant booing of Momo Sissoko there was little for the home crowd to get worked up about, until the third minute of the second half, when Jonjo Shelvy stupidly got himself sent off for standing on Dele Alli’s ankle.
Alli became the pantomime villain as Spurs upped the tempo, Kane should have opened the scoring 4 minutes later with a point blank shot at the keeper, but Rob Elliot produced a fine save. Inevitably it was Alli who broke the deadlock in the 61st minute, getting on the end of an Eriksson’s pass after Spurs worked the ball around Newcastle’s box.
From then on Tottenham were in game management mode, happy to knock the ball around and make Newcastle run. In the 70th minute the Magpies defence cracked again as a long session of keep ball eventually saw Ben Davies slide home.
From then on Spurs continued their domination of possession, Kane should have made it 3-0 in injury time but struck the post, for Newcastle Christian Atsu produced a fine run and shot but Tottenham rarely looked troubled and rode out 2-0 winners.
Newcastle should have enough to survive this season, but Shelvey’s upcoming suspension combined with two first half injuries will only add to the pressure for new signings and further complicate the relationship between Benitez & Mike Ashley, if Newcastle are to avoid their customary autumn crisis they need to get the recruitment right over the next three weeks.
As for Tottenham this was a routine win from a potentially tricky opener, showcasing their defensive strength if not a fully functioning attack. Eriksen was outstanding whilst Kyle Walker-Peters enjoyed a fine debut at right back. They’ll need to play at a greater tempo in their adopted home next week against Chelsea. But for now it’s a solid start.