Spurs 1 Toon 0 - Breaking the hearts of the Geordie nation
There was no goal glut in the end. Instead we enjoyed a rather comfortable home performance, with the usual unwanted bonus of nervy late moments you associate with Spurs. But in truth, Newcastle was neither menacing nor cohesive enough to ever cause anything near sustained pressure. A spurned Nolan shot and Martins kicking high over the bar, the only moments I sighed relief. A nail in the coffin, our job done as one of their opponents in the ‘Let’s Relegate Newcastle’ campaign. The smugness of Shearer is disappearing faster than a pint of Brown Ale in a Newcastle pub.
Pre-match I was a little surprised. No Roman in the starting line-up or the bench. I’ve since heard it was due to a back complaint. So Bent got the nod again, with the undroppable-no-matter-how-quiet-he’s-been Robbie Keane partnering him up-front. King’s knees flared up in training, so Michael Dawson started and in central midfield Jenas failed to shake off the hamstring injury he picked up against West Ham which meant Tommy Huddlestone would get his chance alongside Palacios. Hutton and Defoe both on the bench. It’s nice to see so much quality in depth. Something we had at the start of the season, without the confidence that’s required to gel it all together.
Newcastle had Martins, Smith and Viduka on the bench. Owen up-front and to be honest I’d be hard-pressed to remember the rest of them.
Only took two minutes for something to happen. A Bassong tackle on Darren Bent that possibly warranted a red card. If it had happened 30 minutes into the game or at some point in the second half, then he would have got his marching orders for sure. Not to worry. We dominated possession and created chances with relative ease, resulting in a Bent goal at the second time of asking after Harper saved his initial cross-come-shot. 1-0 up and the much maligned Bent does the only thing he does…and that’s score. Do we still want rid of him? Yes, of course we do. He’s still one-dimensional. But for now, I have no problem being a hypocrite and celebrate his goals. We spent the rest of the match attempting to get the second, which in the end eluded us.
It’s actually a frustrating problem. It cost us three points at Blackburn and it might have cost us a couple against Newcastle. We have a stupendous home record this season (under Harry, not Ramos) with one defeat (against Everton), possibly one too many draws, but only 9 goals conceded overall. 13 is the ‘record’ low goals against at the Lane achieved back in the 60’s. Only Liverpool this season have conceded less goals on home turf. Fortress White Hart Lane? The flip side to this is the fact that we haven’t scored that many going forward. Boring boring Tottenham. So what exactly is the problem? Well, I’m not sure there is one. Other than maybe attempting to walk the ball into the back of the net. Couple of occasions yesterday found us on the edge of the area with the players passing the ball around like a hot potato – all afraid to have a crack. Our general play is fine, but just needs stepping up just a tad in the way of final balls and that ruthless killer instinct.
We should not have gone into the final 10 minutes biting our nails. In the end, Newcastle lacked the composure to take any of their half-chances. Lady luck doesn’t always lift her skirt up and playfully wink at you. With Alan Shearer changing formations more often than Mike Ashley likes to appoint new managers, not only are Newcastle a mish-mashed squad of players, they also appear to lack any understanding in the way of responsibility, leadership and spirit. No miraculous away day for the Toon army this time. No shock 1-4 win. It never looked like happening for them anyway. This isn’t the soft-touch Spurs of old.
Dawson and Woody were commanding at the back. BAE enjoying a relatively easy afternoon. Corluka, clumsy with his passing at times, but otherwise fine. Had to slot into the centre-back position when Dawson was stretchered off with an ankle injury that might well end his season (hope it isn’t too serious). This all meant we welcomed back Alan Hutton who was pretty a-ok on his return. One or two excellent crosses played in with pace, one to the head of Bent who was a little unlucky not to get fully behind it for what would have been a certain second.
We also got to see Jermain Defoe in cameo mode. Still a little way off from being completely match-fit, but who cares. He’s back and will almost certainly score a goal or two before the season closes. Martins had that one effort that had Shearers heart-in-mouth, Viduka…can’t remember if he did anything of note. Although both him and Martins did improve Newcastle going forward, and as they pressed late on, looked more of a team than they did in the previous 80 minutes. Alan Smith was his usual dirty self.
Only thing Newcastle bemoaned was a tackle by Woodgate on Martins. But since when is ‘winning the ball’ a clear penalty shout? Jonathon Pearce thought otherwise on Match of the Day 2. The BBC also opted to cut out the Bassong foul. In fact, the editing of the match was a complete joke. All very complimentary towards Alan Shearers side. Worth noting we had around twenty-two attempts compared to their eight. But you’d think the game was equally matched if you hadn’t seen it live (at Spurs or on Sky). Skys commentary, by all accounts, was as expected with Andy Gray co-commentating. Conspiracy I tells ya, it’s a conspiracy! Those pesky Arsenal and West Ham journos strike again! Down with this sort of thing!
And what of the enigma Huddlestone? Palacios return makes such a massive difference to the side I have to once more call on Harry to look for a young(er) understudy so that we don’t miss him too much when he’s out, suspended or otherwise. He gave Tom time to show-off his sublime passing range. Although to be fair, even I would have time on the ball against Newcastle United. It’s the type of game where you find yourself thinking maybe, just maybe, Tom does have a future as a first-team player. But the reality is, it wasn’t a top performance against top side opposition. It was a good performance against poor opposition. Add pace to an opposing midfield, and he’ll struggle. It’s worth mentioning he was in hospital this past week with a swollen neck (glands?) so well done regardless of the usual question marks we like to throw his way.
Robbie Keane was once more on the quiet side. Run around, waved his arms. But not too much of anything else. Hopefully his game will pick up again with JD back. He does appear to look a little too comfortable in the starting line-up. Lennon did well in-front of Fabio, but there’s no doubt he needs another step up in the way of all-round play. It will come.
So, after all the hype and the banter, we have possibly ended Newcastle United. Their three remaining home games take on monumental importance. They cannot afford to lose any of them. It’s not quite end of days for the Geordie nation just yet. I’m just glad it’s them down there and not us.
Talking of which, we are now left with two winnable home games (WBA, Man City) but away trips to Man Utd, Everton and Liverpool. Plenty of minutes for Harry to continue the rejuvenation of the team.
Those relegation worries seem a million miles away now. You remember…two points from eight games, innit.