Everything had seemed to be in place for a barnstorming start to the season as Newcastle United hosted Spurs in their opening fixture today. With the prep that Rafa had done with his players complete, an almost record number of season tickets sold, Gallowgate Flags in their full glory and the noise and excitement at fever pitch what could possibly go wrong?!
By final whistle it would be back to the drawing board in SO many ways with lengthy bans and injuries (both self inflicted and otherwise) now plaguing the Newcastle boss.
STARTING XI: Elliot, Manquillo, Lejeune (Mbenga, 34), Clark, Dummett (Lascelles, 7) Shelvey, Hayden, Ritchie, Perez, Atsu, Gayle (Merino, 76)
The shape, system and personnel would be no surprise as those who’d taken the majority of the later minutes of friendlies keeping their places for this one.
And Newcastle were doing just fine against a very good Tottenham side who would dominate possession throughout without really creating too much of note for most of the match. That being true at least until the game changing moment when Jonjo Shelvey, captain for the day after a great pre-season, inexplicably and deliberately stood on Dele Alli’s ankle in an unprovoked attack. Sheer lunacy on 48 minutes just as Spurs looked like they were starting to run out of ideas.
A 2-0 defeat before kick of may not have been what the Newcastle faithful wanted but many would have expected a score like that. It was not the outcome that would be frustrating however, but what we have been left with in picking up the pieces of the worst possible start to the season.
For as well as the red card and three match ban for Shelvey, there would also be seemingly serious injuries for Rafa favourite Dummett and more worryingly to Lejeune after a horror tackle from Harry Kane, something he’d only get a yellow for.
The game would start as expected in front of a 52,077 sell out. Spurs dominating possession and moving the ball quickly and to each flank in search of an opening. Newcastle would be content to sit back and keep the space between the back four and what would be a midfield five at time tight and compact with little room for Alli and others to work in between the lines.
Spurs had brought in Kyle Walker-Peters with a number of full backs injured and it was clear that Newcastle had targeted the youngster for special treatment at right full back with the Magpies bombarding the left side with Atsu and the centre of most that was good for Newcastle in the first half.
To be fair to the Spurs youngster he coped with everything we threw at him however and was probably man of the match given his performance both in rearguard action and going forward.
For Newcastle the worry would come from first an injury for Paul Dummett with what clearly looking like a hamstring strain (lets hope it’s a mild one) but then on 34 minutes what seems a serious injury to Lejeune after a disgusting scissor tackle from behind from Harry Kane.
To that point the new stopper had the England striker in his pocket and the tackle seemed born from frustration that the England man was not getting a look in. Frustration and worry all round that he had to come off and couldn’t put any weight on his ankle.
To that point Spurs had resorted to efforts from range although Elliot would be called upon to make a number of great saves as the game wore on.
The turning moment was the sending off of Shelvey though with Newcastle seeming capable of weathering the Spurs bombardment with a full compliment of players.
With Dele Alli on the floor, again complaining, Shelvey would walk over to pick up the ball from the Spurs man only to deliberately stand on Alli’s ankle right in front of the referee Andre Marriner. And whilst some had questioned Marriner being in charge of this one given his previous performances at SJP, Shelvey essentially gave the referee no choice to be produce a red. Mindless!
Spurs now with more room to play in made the most of the extra man. And it would take less than 15 minutes for them to find the first goal. A loverly ball splitting the Newcastle defence allowing, you’ve guessed it, Alli to slam home on the volley.
And within ten minutes it was 2-0. This time a lovely move from Tottenham rounded off by Ben Davies with the easiest of tap ins.
Despite Atsu and Clark both having decent efforts the closes the game would come to another goal was a Kane effort that would thunder back off the Newcastle post in injury time.
2-0 in the end not a bad as it could have been.
After the game Christian Atsu spoke of Jonjo Shelvey’s remorsefulness in the dressing room and his apology. Whilst Rafa confirmed the swelling for both Lejeune and Dummett was so bad that they would have to wait for days before scans could even take place.
Perhaps in some perverted way what happened today will galvanise the Newcastle squad. It will certainly open the door to someone to fill in for Shelvey in the coming games whilst it’s back to the drawing board with the back 4 which will look nothing like those Rafa would ideally start with for some time it would seem.
Match Stats Graphic: BBC