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Sunday at St James Park was about so much than the match – It was 14 years in the making

1 month ago
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Newcastle 2 Tottenham 3- Sunday 17 October 4.30pm

Seminal. This is, ultimately a report on a match that was lost, but this was so much more than another game day on Tyneside.

This was a day in the making for fourteen years, one that had been rehearsed in dreams and bemoaned as never to arrive.

The circumstances had prompted much discussion, disparity and disdain, but today, for what felt like the first time in a generation, Newcastle was United.

In recent days, whilst being called upon to discuss the wider questions around the club’s new owners, I have been at pains to point out the personal and community impact a revitalised Newcastle United brings to the area, and today brought that home with interest. My mate Hutch, whose longstanding health complications have made for a frightening and challenging 18 months, made his first visit to SJP since pre-lockdown. It felt overwhelming and triumphant to see him there under any circumstances, but the narrative of today doubled it down.

The looks on the faces of my son Blake and godson Adam as they stood on their seats and gaped in awe at Wor Flags’ magnificent display was something that will stay with me for a long time. Two normally hard working little gobs descended into silence as they absorbed the noise, the sights and the occasion unfolding around them.

The sound had been building through the town via an afternoon of packed pubs and a carnival atmosphere on Gallowgate. A giant Sports Direct mug offered a gleeful farewell to the previous regime and a steel drum band cranked up the party outside the club shop, doing what I would bet was its best day’s trade in many a year. Images crept through on social media of former legends returning to the ground as the terraces swelled uncharacteristically early. The noise was in full flow as kick off approached, but it found an extra gear when the tannoy announced the presence of Yasir Al-Rumayyan, the new Chairman of NUFC. It was like a primal scream that greeted the man from Saudi, frustration mixed with elation that finally someone else was occupying Mike Ashley’s neglected seat.

Local hero kicked in and the players were raucously greeted as they approached the Gallowgate end. The kick off just melded in as part of the occasion, the volume still cranked up and the atmosphere bristling. The Newcastle players responded as they surely had to, almost carried along for two minutes when Callum Wilson headed in Manquillo’s cross to get the new era off to a blistering started. Bedlam, ecstasy and more noise. Everything was going magnificently.

Then, of course, reality bit hard. New owners and a returning crowd but this was still a relegation battling Newcastle side managed by Steve Bruce. Ashley era NUFC still had a strong presence on the pitch and I don’t just mean the omnipresent Sports Direct advertising.

Having taken a confidence-boosting lead, United sat back and lost their shape, utterly clueless as to what to do with their immediate advantage. The defence, still manned by the same personnel who formed an impassable wall of steel under Rafa, clucked and squawked around like a gang of startled chickens being pelted with onions.

Longstaff and Willock seemed to conscientiously object to the prospect of a midfield battle, offering the startled poultry as much protection as a pair of jam underpants in a storm of flying ants. Joelinton, having harnessed the pre-match atmosphere to start with real intent of tearing down the left flank and getting past his man, reverted to type and repeatedly pulled off a remarkable treble of falling on his a.se, losing the ball and managing to foul his man, with rumours circulating later that the Brazilian was spotted hanging off the back of a double decker bus on a pair of out of control roller skates, so committed was he to his ongoing Frank Spencer impression.

I suppose what I’m getting at here is; everyone stood off, panicked and looked chaotically disorganised as possession was surrendered in the middle of the park and Reguilon teed up Ndombele to lace an equaliser in. Five minutes later Hojbjerg played a through ball that the offside Harry Kane dinked cleverly over Darlow. The flag saved us, for all of two minutes as VAR decided to let the England captain open his goalscoring account for the season. Absolute collapse.

As wave after wave of Spurs attacks steamed on the Gallowgate, there was then a sudden disturbance. Unfortunately, this was not a sudden outbreak of competence in the United counter effort, but someone at the front of the East Stand taking poorly. The football suddenly paled to insignificance as this horrible event brought out the best in people in a way we’d do well to remember in these fractious times. In the aftermath of the event I have seen the names of Ruth McDonald, a nurse who was first to respond, and Tom Pritchard, a doctor who ran from the Gallowgate end to administer CPR. Credit also to Eric Dier, who summed up the desperation in the crowd when steaming over to the benches and bellowing at the medical staff to get themselves in action. A defibrillator was brought over and the man who took poorly was subsequently reported as being on the road to recovery thanks to these people. Maybe remember this next time you read some line of NHS bashing from some weapon who stands to make a few quid out of sowing discord.

The events saw the match temporarily halted (pint) with a resumption of the final 7 minutes of the first half once the man was confirmed as stable and taken to the RVI. Understandably this was a bit disjointed, although it’s difficult to tell if United’s players were shaken up or just going about business as usual. Kane went skipping through and squared it for Son to tap in for 3-1 as we reached actual half time (pint).

A two goal lead feels desperate but is not insurmountable, especially with a fervent crowd right behind you. Newcastle needed to re-emerge sharper, put more focus on attack and change up the personnel to suit a front foot action. None of this happened.

Meandering, unambiguous play saw Wilson practically frozen out as Spurs enjoyed vast periods of possession, although the VAR uncharacteristically denied them a penalty when someone belted the ball off what may have been Ritchie’s arm. Wilson was withdrawn. Fine, he’s recovering from a muscle injury, but once again Gayle watched on from the bench as we chased the game with no striker. Shelvey came on and lasted 23 minutes before going off for two daft yellows for kicking folk up-a-height.

In the last minute of added time, substitute Jacob Murphy showed that he can deliver a dead ball with far more effect than anyone starting in front of him, with a terrific whipped free kick. It’s lucky that Eric Dier panicked as there were no Newcastle players making any effort to challenge him as he kneed the ball past Lloris into his own goal.

With four minutes of injury time, the classic grandstand finish was suddenly on for the ten men. Unfortunately, we barely got a kick, much less a shot on goal, with Wilson’s opener unforgivably our only shot on target. Bruce went on to claim that “we have made a few good starts but unfortunately sat deep and not done enough defensively” as though this clusterbumble of tactical and performance cluster is some baffling mystery under the sphere of influence of person or persons unknown. Basically a confession that the team is clueless and undercoached, with the nerve to act mystified as to who exactly should be addressing this.

The calls for Bruce to go were out in force as the game petered out, and I have to admit, I’ve been intermittently checking the news in between writing this to see if the axe has finally fallen. Somehow, there are still offensive opinions festering in the media, as people far removed from our club utilise the benefits of their occasional viewings of MOTD and knowledge that Bruce is a good lad down the pub, to pass judgement on the entire Newcastle fan base. In recent days, Paul Scholes, Lianne Sanderson, Jim White and the fountain of wisdom that is Danny Murphy, have all stuck up for Bruce with what can only be a wilful ignorance of damning statistics that could easily be collated on a sheet of A4 paper, would they bother to scratch the surface of research.

Statistics such as 7 wins in 38 games, an average of just over one point as Newcastle manager, no wins this season, a 29% win percentage and most tellingly but consistently wilfully overlooked: £125 million net spend on a team that was already an established, solid mid-table side (with a solid defence!), a stat that is corrupted when claims are abound that he has performed as well as Benitez given the retention of 12/13th place in the table. This sort of cash should have been catapulting that side into upper echelons, not prompting congratulatory slaps on the back for standing still and, as we are now, sleepwalking backwards.

The fact that we, as fans, have watched every game of this miserable procession and immersed ourselves in the inability to deliver corners, the shambolic standing off and inviting opponents on, the constant clueless surrender of possession at throw ins, the wasted non-substitutions and the low points of Brentford, Sheffield United, Brighton are all dismissed by rent-a-gobs who catch 5 minutes of highlights, wrap it up in a few lazy assumptions then move right on back to blethering about Liverpool or Arsenal.

The only small caveat that has been stated in Bruce’s defence is that it was always a thankless task working under Ashley (though his has been a lot easier than Keegan, Pardew, Hughton, Benitez etc.) and were Bruce to go the queue would hardly have went round the block to sign up to run Sports Direct FC.

That buffer has been removed, Ashley is gone and I sincerely hope that by the time this is in wider circulation, Bruce has followed him, the last remaining symptom of a 14 year disease.

Here’s hoping by the time Chelsea visit Gallowgate in two weeks the new dawn can start in earnest.

Stats from BBC Sport:

Newcastle 2 Tottenham 3- Sunday 17 October 4.30pm

Goals:

Tottenham

Ndombele 17, Kane 22, Son 45+4

Newcastle:

Wilson 2, Shelvey red card 83, Dier OG 89

(In brackets the first half stats)

Possession was Tottenham 64% (59%) Newcastle 36% (41%)

Total shots were Tottenham 14 (8)  Newcastle 7 (4)

Shots on target were Tottenham 4 (4) Newcastle 1 (1)

Corners were Tottenham 9 (3) Newcastle 2 (1)

Referee: Andre Marriner

Newcastle United:

Darlow, Manquillo, Lascelles, Clark, Ritchie, Sean Longstaff (Shelvey 60), Hayden, Willock (Murphy 77), Saint-Maximin, Joelinton, Wilson (Fraser 77)

Unused Subs:

Gillespie, Schar, Lewis, Fernandez, Hendrick, Gayle

(3 Positives and 3 Negatives from Newcastle 2 Tottenham 3 – Read HERE)

(The elephant in the room at Newcastle United – Read HERE)

(Steve Bruce utters the dreaded four words after Newcastle 2 Tottenham 3 – Read HERE)

(Nuno plays it for laughs when discussing how Tottenham won 3-2 against Newcastle United – Read HERE)

(Newcastle 2 Tottenham 3 – Match ratings and comments on all the NUFC players – Read HERE)

(Newcastle 2 Tottenham 3 – Instant NUFC fan/writer reaction to Sunday’s defeat – Read HERE)

Follow Jamie on Twitter @Mr_Dolf

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