The catalyst to Newcastle United getting that precious point against Tottenham
In any football season there will always be pivotal moments, days, or games, when you look back and think that was the moment that sealed our fate.
The 4 April 2021 could prove to be one of those days for Newcastle United and Fulham, as the two clubs contest the final relegation place in this strangest of Premier League seasons.
When former Newcastle United striker Aleksandar Mitrovic put Fulham 1-0 up away at Villa in the 61st minute, to move Scott Parker’s side out of the relegation zone, I’m sure I wasn’t the only Newcastle fan to fear the worst.
What perhaps made it even more disheartening, was that it came on the day that Steve Bruce’s side produced one of their best performances of an admittedly dire season.
A combination of injuries and the nature of the performance against Brighton, necessitated five changes from Steve Bruce with Emil Krafth, Matt Ritchie, Jacob Murphy, Sean Longstaff and Dwight Gayle all coming into the side.
Whether through luck, design or a combination of both, I was actually happy with the team that Bruce chose for the first time in a long time. Joe Willock was perhaps a little unlucky to miss out but I was pleased to see Sean Longstaff back in the side after a long absence.
In his pre-match press conference last week, Steve Bruce had stated that he thought another nine points would be enough to keep the club up. I agreed with him, however, looking at our fixture list it was hard to see where those points were going to come from.
Fixtures against Burnley, Sheffield United and Fulham seemed our most likely source of points, but given we have only won seven matches all season, it appeared a lot to ask to win three of our last eight.
I certainly harboured no hopes of getting anything from a Tottenham Hotspur side managed by Jose Mourinho, despite them having their own troubles this season.
Which was why I was so surprised and encouraged by the performance Newcastle United then produced.
Matt Ritchie, back in the side despite his own well publicised issues with Bruce, was the catalyst for this performance. What Ritchie sometimes lacks in talent he more than makes up for with commitment and endeavour and it was this willingness to press and harass Tottenham, that led to the opening goal with Matt Ritchie winning the ball at the third time of asking. It broke to Sean Longstaff on the corner of the area and the midfielder slipped a perfectly weighted ball into the path of Joelinton, who finished with the composure that has so often been lacking during his time at the club.
If that passage of play showcased everything that could be good about the side, then the next five minutes highlighted the worst.
First, Krafth made a hash of a clearance to gift Harry Kane an immediate equaliser, and it was worse just minutes later when an incisive pass split our defence with ease, Kane buried the ball in the bottom corner past the despairing dive of Dubravka.
I feared the worst at this point.
Though I had been impressed with our performance up until that moment in the game, I couldn’t see a way back in now that Tottenham had got their noses in front. I fully expected us to huff and puff, but I didn’t think we would be able to blow the house down.
Surprisingly though, the team kept their nerve. Led by Joelinton, who produced his best all round game in a Newcastle shirt, we continued to cause Tottenham problems.
There were worrying moments. Almiron headed brilliantly off the line, and Harry Kane hit the post in search of a hat-trick, but we were still in the game. And not just in the game, but actively trying to make something happen, a quality that has been so sorely lacking in our play this season.
And, for once, that persistence paid off when a cross from Matt Ritchie was headed back brilliantly across the six yard box by Joelinton, with the ball eventually landing at the feet of Joe Willock, who lashed the ball into the roof of the net.
So a good point was secured. A bonus point in our battle against relegation.
However, how good a point it would prove to be ultimately rested in the hands of Fulham who were away at Aston Villa. Scott Parker’s side knew that a victory would take them out of the bottom three on goal difference, though having played a game more than Newcastle.
When Tyrone Mings made a hash of a back pass to allow Aleksandar Mitrovic to round the goalkeeper and slot into an empty net, I feared the worst. It would be typical for a former player to come back and haunt us in such a fashion.
Fortunately for everyone concerned with Newcastle, Fulham then imploded, conceding three goals in quick succession to slip to defeat.
Suddenly that point against Tottenham seemed that much more valuable. Slipping further out of Fulham’s grasp and still with that game in hand. And one less opportunity for Scott Parker’s men to close that gap and put some real pressure on.
Both sides have difficult matches in the run in to that final day decider at Craven Cottage. Steve Bruce’s side have now set a standard against Tottenham, which if they can maintain, should see us pick up more points over the next few weeks.
A precious three points against Burnley next Sunday would go an awfully long way to securing our future in the Premier League for another season, putting another nail in Fulham’s coffin.
With Allan Saint-Maximin making his return as a sub against Tottenham and Callum Wilson hopefully to come back in, perhaps Bruce might actually see his team accumulate the number of points required to reach Premier League safety.
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