Doing enough to beat Newcastle is the very definition of damning with faint praise. Spurs did most of the right things in a performance that improved on our last three efforts, but saying that and we’re back to not saying very much at all. Hard work throughout the side, pressing in midfield, decent movement up front especially on the break. None of this was accomplished with any consistent conviction, apart from Kane’s fabulous final goal on the break but we were the better side and deserved this win.
It goes without saying that Spurs set up with a 4–2–3–1 – has Pochettino ever started with something different? A few much needed tweaks though. Lamela on the right to have another go at discovering some form while Paulinho came into midfield to give Mason a rest. Fazio again started at the back. This latter was an interesting choice because the Newcastle centre forward Perez is small enough to nip between his legs. Their tiny striker of course scored a header earlier this season at White Hart Lane, which says more about the value of positioning for a centre half than height or muscle.
Their darting runs looked to unsettle the back four early on but apart from a few scares the early period was more about Spurs in possession and stifling Newcastle attacks at source by pressing intensely in midfield. Possession was the key to this one. The stats show 60–40 in our favour and while we could have done more in attack when we had the ball, it meant we gradually edged our way on top. Newcastle’s increasingly sporadic attacks became the exception to Spurs’ rule.
Bit of a nothing match until our pressing earned a goal assist. Gouffran delayed too long and Chadli picked up the loose ball, ambled forward unchallenged and shot past the keeper from 20 yards. It bounced and dipped, awkward for Krul but everyone, including Chadli, expected him to save it.
Credit to Chadli, repaying some of his manager’s faith where many supporters had lost ours completely. Was it my imagination or did he work harder on Sunday? Pochettino gave him a little peptalk as he was substituted later – maybe words had been said during the week and the Belgian had responded. Or perhaps Poch wanted some company.
In the home game earlier this season, Spurs were at their infuriating worst, on top then failing to spot the arrival of a Very Big Player on the left at the start of the second half and conceding straight away. This time, a small man but the same outcome, an equaliser in 15 seconds of the restart. When I plead for consistency, this is not what I had in mind.
It looked like another wasted opportunity to grab 3 points against an average team. Lamela was atrocious for the first hour, playing with the vision of a man with a bag over his head. However, after a stuttering fightback of sorts, Eriksen’s curling free-kick tempted many but no one got a touch, not even the keeper, and it sailed into the net at the far post.
Newcastle didn’t have the spirit to motivate themselves to push hard for an equaliser and Spurs were increasingly strong on the break. Kane’s piledriver volleyed corner bounced on the line but did not cross it, then he sealed it near the end, running on to a Lamela pass, controlling it perfectly and shooting past Krul, a fine goal to wrap up an average day.
Kane was unobtrusively excellent up front, available and drifting wide to make space in the middle, although Paulinho won the TV man of the match for a workmanlike midfield effort. No coincidence that his best game of the season (not that he has given himself much competition) came when he was played in his natural position. He instinctively covered the gaps when Bentaleb moved forward.
My frustration with him has been plain in this column this year. I defended him for a long time after his early form subsided because he was played too far forward or not at all. I commented at the time that he looked as if he would rather be anywhere in the world than on the WHL pitch. Will he stay? Doubt it, but playing him does not put him in the mythical shopwindow because his value lies in is reputation pre-Spurs.
Of the others, Rose did well and Fazio came strong in the last 15 minutes. He is someone who we should play now with next season in mind. To bring out the leadership qualities he showed in Spain, I’d put him in charge of the back four for the rest of the season. Give him a chance to be a leader, maybe his form will come back.
So good to see that compared with the last three games, we’re not by the pool just yet although the bags are almost packed. Albeit against unmotivated and disjointed opposition, we put in more application and effort on Sunday. I’m not thinking about what Man City can do to our defence, enjoy this win and Kane’s 30th goal of a season than effectively began for him in November.
A group of Newcastle fans organised a boycott of this match in protest against owner Mike Ashley’s regime that has ripped the heart and soul from a club which depends on passion to see it through the bad times. Suddenly the much reviled Alan Pardew looks a better manager than we thought. The policy of bringing lesser known signings through and developing them appears threadbare if progress stalls and the system doing that development falls apart. By all accounts Ashley is content to secure his investment at the expense of securing the future well-being of the team.
It’s fashionable in some quarters to jeer at fans who style themselves as the best in the land. Not me – I feel for Newcastle supporters, long-suffering but still willing. Their attachment to figures from their past as saviours, like Shearer or Keegan, leaves them open and I still chuckle at the Geordie who without apparent irony celebrated Keegan’s return by parading a packet of Special K outside an empty St James’ Park.
Look closer and we have something in common. Spurs fans don’t have that attachment to the city that I envy where club and city are inseparable in identity. However, the last but one paragraph serves as a warning as to what could go wrong if Spurs’ declared return to a policy of developing upwardly mobile talent does not work because there is no consistent support for manager and development staff/scouts. It’s not all about the money.