Steve and the Art of Football Maintenance : Newcastle 2 Tottenham 2
Before the game, looking at Steve Bruce and Jose Mourinho (with our iron stomach), it looked like the two experienced managers were occupying a very similar hot seat.
Both coaches had much to prove to their respective sets of fans, ugly football not being backed up with results, defensive tactics confused by indefensible defending and confrontational attitudes alienating the majority of supporters.
In this Covid lockdown PL season that is only half the story, the supporters don’t count so much. What counts more is that both can achieve the goals set by their bosses at the start of the season, Spurs challenging for trophies and Champions League qualification on a budget, NUFC being fourth bottom of the Premier League at the end of May, on a smaller budget.
Both teams had suffered humiliating losses in recent weeks, Spurs being knocked out of the Europa League in Zagreb, United being knocked out of their armchair comforts by Brighton on the south coast.
What followed was the art of football maintenance.
Only seven games after a season high performance in a Graeme Jones 4-4-2 diamond formation, a run of games which saw a six-point haul and a continuation of a formation completely reliant on players who were not available, Bruce went back to basics. Even though those players who made the 4-4-2 work were coming back to fitness and largely available. Maybe it was the ignominy of the Brighton defeat, maybe it was having two full weeks (or six full training sessions) to work with the players, or maybe it was just luck, but either way, United seemed to line up with players playing in positions which suited them. Mostly.
With Krafth playing on the right side of three centre halves the team looked weaker defensively and the Steves also threw a surprise of Sean Longstaff playing on the left of three central midfielders, Almiron on the right. In a midfield three of Almiron, Shelvey and Longstaff it seemed strange to have left-footed Almiron on the right and right-footed Longstaff on the left. I understand why you would want to do that with wingers, so they can cut inside and shoot, but not with midfielders who are already inside. Seemed odd to me.
Still, the team looked better. With Murphy and Ritchie probably the best two players suited to playing wing backs, Longstaff one of the most talented players at the club, even if he rarely shows it, and Dwight Gayle the most natural goalscorer available to the management, it was a team that I found to be positive, interesting and attacking. Which is nice.
So it proved to be. Whatever each team’s tactics or ambitions it was an entertaining game. The first half was end to end. In the first minute Kane nearly got played in and Longstaff zipped down the left but overhit his cross. Two bits of attacking play in the first sixty seconds, it was a throwback to happier times.
By the time United opened the scoring the watching public were tipsy on euphoria. For Spurs, Lucas Moira put a free kick wide of the far post across goal, Harry Kane put another free kick into the wall and Dubravka saved from the same player at the near post. For NUFC a hapless Sanchez clearance fell to JL who fired his powerful shot straight at Lloris when he should have done much better. Dwight Gayle should have scored from a Murphy cross but even worse was to follow when his instinctive back-header from a Shelvey chip was well saved by Lloris but the forward’s scuffed follow up should have ended up in the back of the net, instead ricocheting off the post onto Lloris’ derriere and then into his arms.
Then came the goals.
Just before the half hour a shaky Tottenham defence tried to play the ball out, it was intercepted by Matt Ritchie and Sean Longstaff played the ball across the penalty area to our Brazilian eight yards out. To say he couldn’t miss would be ignorant of his NUFC history, but even he shouldn’t have missed with half the goal to aim at. He didn’t miss. On the balance of play, the best team was winning.
It wouldn’t be Newcastle United without a spanner the size of Jose’s ego in the works the size of Steve Bruce’s lunch. The lead lasted about ninety seconds. Some random Spurs through ball should either have been left by Krafth for Dubravka to collect or booted out for a corner by Krafth, as Graeme Souness said at half-time he should have done anything else than what he actually did, my agony at the goal equal to my agony at agreeing with Souness. His pathetic clearance rebounded off Harry Kane who was able to tap it into an unguarded net. It was a horrible moment for Krafth who just seems to be getting worse, if that is possible. He doesn’t seem to be able to play on the right side of any sort of defence, three, four or five. He can’t cross a ball, mark a man or even last ninety minutes, he again came off today with a recurrence of that paper-cut which has haunted him all season.
By now United were all over the place and one of only a handful of decent moves by Spurs in the game ended in them going 2-1 up. Ndombele and Kane swapped passes before the striker shot across Dubravka. The shot of a top striker. There was not one single micro-second when I thought he was going to miss. United were on the ropes.
For ten minutes after going 1-0 down, Spurs could have won the game with NUFC all over the place, especially in defence. As it was, United wrestled some control back after forty minutes and with better crossing (Krafth), passing (Gayle) and shooting (Longstaff) may well have gone in level at half time. Maybe that’s why the Spurs fans are annoyed. A decent team would have put that game to bed there and then.
The first fifteen minutes of the second half was a bit of a phoney war. Newcastle were on top but generally Spurs, comfortable at 2-1 up, kept the Magpies at wings length. On the hour, that all changed. JL missed a sitter as Gayle headed back across goal. The Brazilian, perhaps still stunned from scoring in the first half was on his hunkers and stretched too late to put the ball wide from a couple of yards.
Stung into action, Tanganga saw his header cleared off the line by Almiron before JoeLinton again put the ball wide when well placed. This time a Murphy cross eluded everyone, was perfectly chested down by our £40million striker and his eight-yard right foot shot missed by yards. To be fair to him, it was all part of a better performance by JoeLinton but anyone who says it was a MOTM performance saw a different game to me. His all-round play was good and his workrate was about a hundred times better than whatever excuse we can call Brighton. And he scored. But he missed two great chances and another good one. The situation United are in, typified by JoeLinton’s performances, requires better than that. Next week will provide him the opportunity to prove he is not just Tottenham’s nemesis but he can score against someone else.
Speaking of nemesis’, Harry Kane knows where the goal is. By now the majority of United’s players were looking out on their feet, probably because most of them hadn’t played much this year. ASM on for Gayle but Spurs were in the ascendancy now, their best part of the game apart from the ten minutes where they scored twice. Kane hit the wall with a free kick, hit Dubravka with a shot and hit the post with his final chance of the game after a counter-attack from a failed United corner. I’m getting sick of saying that. By then United had thrown all of their cards on the table.
Willock came on for Krafth and Shelvey dropped into the back three, then Manquillo came on for Murphy and we went back to a 4-4-2.
A minute after Kane hit the post, Willock made it 2-2 by blasting the ball into the roof of the net from inside the six yard box after Miggy’s header had fallen kindly for him. A completely warranted and welcome equaliser. There was still time for Gareth Bale to amble on and put a free kick onto the Town Moor, not that he looked bothered and Longstaff and Lamela to snatch at half-chances which would have taken the points.
Overall, it was a much better performance from Newcastle and a much better game. The players who came in played well, especially Murphy and Ritchie who gave the team energy and commitment respectively. Personally, I am also pleased to see Longstaff back in the team. On talent alone he is, in my opinion, one of our best players and he is also local and young which means he can get much better given the right education, with the added bonus that he is a beacon to our current Academy crop that there is a path into the first team if you are good enough. For me that is key to Newcastle United being successful. If the club can’t or won’t compete financially, they should at least compete with the best local players in situ.
It is easy to see why the Spurs fans don’t like Mourinho. His teams play dull football in comparison to other well-funded teams aiming for CL qualification and winning cups. He himself has lost that tag of being a winner, his successes are well behind him and so are those top jobs he used to be in contention for. Probably most importantly, he himself has lost much of the humour and intrigue which he once had, remember him at Chelsea first time around, he was refreshing. Now he sounds twisted and bitter. Throw all of those things into the mix and the only thing that keeps everyone off his back is winning. When he wins, all is forgotten, when he doesn’t, the football is rubbish and he acts like a knacker. I suppose it is fine lines. Spurs are in with a shot of finishing fourth and can win the Carabao Cup. If they achieve both, Jose will quite rightly be able to say he has done well. If they achieve neither, Spurs fans will feel justified in hammering their dull tactics and humourless boss. As he said after this game:
“I am frustrated. We needed to win the match and we came to win. We were not far from winning it but, at the same time, we created some instability on the game with so many individual defensive mistakes that we made. We always gave Newcastle a chance to be in the game.”
Dour stuff. Steve Bruce falls into much of the same mulch. This performance was spirited, entertaining and attacking but there have been very few of those this season. After the game Bruce said:
“All this nonsense that we unfortunately get thrown at us. The spirit in the camp and a togetherness is, in my opinion, always going to be there.”
He’s right of course. Perhaps he was talking as a fan for once because that is exactly how I feel. All of the nonsense I have to watch on the pitch is something that I unfortunately get thrown at me. The off-field nonsense is just white noise. After this match I was at least more positive, more hopeful that the team can escape relegation and happier that I had seen a game which was worth watching. For one week only?
Stats from BBC Sport:
Newcastle 2 Tottenham 2 – Sunday 4 April 2.05pm
Joelinton 28, Willock 85
Kane 30, 34
(Half-time stats in brackets)
Possession was Spurs 59% (58%) Newcastle 41% (42%)
Total shots were Spurs 11 (4) Newcastle 22 (11)
Shots on target were Spurs 5 (3) Newcastle 6 (4)
Corners were Spurs 3 (1) Newcastle 7 (4)
Referee: Craig Pawson
Dubravka, Murphy (Manquillo 83), Krafth (Willock 79), Lascelles, Dummett, Ritchie, Shelvey, Sean Longstaff, Almiron, Gayle (Saint-Maximin 71), Joelinton
Darlow, Clark, Matt Longstaff, Lewis, Hendrick, Anderson
(The final proof that Steve Bruce needs to be sacked by Newcastle United ASAP – Read HERE)
(Mitrovic dumps Newcastle in relegation zone only for Trezeguet to pull them back out – Read HERE)
(Steve Bruce starts arguing with himself after making it 2 wins in 21 Newcastle matches – Read HERE)
(3 Positives and 3 Negatives from Newcastle 2 Tottenham 2 – Read HERE)
(Newcastle 2 Tottenham 2 – Instant NUFC fan/writer reaction to Sunday’s draw – Read HERE)
(Newcastle 2 Tottenham 2 – For a change, a match I didn’t hate watching – Read HERE)
If you would like to feature on The Mag, submit your article to [email protected]