Newcastle United 5-1 Tottenham Hotspur
Newcastle United bow out of the Premier League as only they know how. The 5-1 demolition of Tottenham, with NUFC reduced to 10 men for 30 minutes, once more shows that this Newcastle team had more than enough quality not to be relegated had it been in the hands of a competent manager for most of the season.
One shudders to think what the atmosphere would have been like had McClown still been in charge. But with Rafa at the helm, for now at least, there was a quite bizarre carnival feel about St James Park as the majority of the 50,183 fans all seemed to be on the same page in making the day about showing the current NUFC boss just what would be in store for him should he decide to stay on at the club.
Those in the Strawberry Corner in particular will be quite horse going into work tomorrow as 90 minutes of singing the Spaniard’s name at that volume cannot be good for the vocal cords. The Toon Army, as man, woman and child, can go home from this game proud of the atmosphere they created today. Just terrific.
On the pitch this was no dead rubber either. For Spurs this was a chance to finish above their bitter rivals Arsenal in the League for the first time in 21 years. And whilst the Gunners were bound to win at home against bottom side Villa (and they did), the travelling Spurs fans seemed extremely confident before the match that getting at least the one point they needed would be little more than a formality against the relegated black and whites. How wrong they would be!
Spurs started much the better of the two sides, ominously barely letting Newcastle get a touch of the ball for what seemed like an age but was probably only five or six minutes. Rafa, of course had set up his side to be ‘compact’ as always, not letting the visitors pass their way through our back lines as they have done to so many this season.
The plan was clear. Sit tight, be organised and use the pace in the side to hit Spurs on the break. As it would transpire, the perfect tactic for an amazing day of football.
STARTING XI: Darlow, Dummett, Mbemba, Taylor, Janmaat, Colback, Tiote (Shelvey), Sissoko (Sterry), Wijnaldum (Aarons), Townsend, Mitrovic
With Mitrovic selected to start ahead of Cisse, is was also clear that the three with pace behind him in Townsend, Sissoko and Wijnaldum would be asked to put in a significant shift at both ends of the pitch.
On 19 minutes Newcastle would get the breakthrough through three of these. Good play in the centre of the park would see the ball released to Sissoko in the left hand side of the box. One neat ball into Mitrovic and an equally elegant layoff to the onrushing Wijnaldum would allow Gini to slot home bottom right.
After weathering the early storm it was just the encouragement Newcastle needed and with Spurs now pushing an even higher line it would the Mags to would expose the space the visitors were staring to leave at the back with a fine run and cross from Sissoko from the right wing finding the unmarked Mitrovic 8 yards out to make it 2-0 and send the Toon Army into raptures.
Spurs now looked sloppy. Newcastle looked up for it and if anything the half time whistle was not something we wanted to hear.
Whatever was said at half time by Pochettino would do the trick. Tottenham seemed to be more composed after the break and although it didn’t come until the 60th minute their goal from Lamela, from an impossible angle, was probably quite deserved when it came. Darlow maybe disappointed not to have saved a shot at his near post but the ball was hit so hard and into a postage stamp top corner that two keepers would have struggled to keep it out.
With the travelling fans now back in full voice Newcastle would surely need to keep their cool to hang onto the victory that would at least see them finish above Norwich. But when Mitrovic was red carded for what at the time seemed an innocuous challenge on Kyle Walker the local fans must have been fearing the worst.
Replays after the game would confirm that the challenge from Mitrovic was in fact a particularly nasty one, studs up and right down the shin of Walker’s standing leg. Walker will reflect tomorrow that he’s still able to make the Euro’s squad it was that bad, whilst Mitrovic is going to have to learn from after visibly getting more agitated through the 67 minutes he was on the pitch.
Surely now it would be backs to the walls. But with the introduction of Chadli for Walker on 71 minutes came the shift in tactics that would play straight into Rafa’s hands.
As Spurs piled forward looking for the Arsenal crushing equaliser they desperately needed they left huge gaps at the back. And with Townsend, Wijnaldum, Sissoko and later Aarons on the pitch to exploit this they would find themselves repeatedly and almost inexplicably undone.
Pochettino would say after the game it was the worst defeat he’d even had as a manager and it was easy to see why.
First a superb run from Sissoko would end in Newcastle gaining a soft penalty. And despite the remonstration of Townsend who was desperate for score against his old club and probably to help boost his chances of an England call, it was Wijnaldum who would send the keeper the wrong way to make it 3-1 to Newcastle. Or ‘3-1 to the Championship’ as the home fans would taunt those who’d made the long trip from London.
From here on in it would be quite comical from a Spurs perspective. Time after time leaving so many players around our box that we literally ended up with two or three players against one Spurs defender over and over again.
And whilst Sissoko would fire wide, hit the keeper when clean through one on one ‘and' have another one brilliantly saved by Lloris, and whilst Townsend could also have scored after cutting into the box on his favoured last foot Newcastle would still manage two more goals.
The first would come from a cross from Janmaat after Townsend had brilliantly curled a shot past the Spurs keeper and onto a post. The Dutchman's cross would be chested down by Aarons who would smash the ball into the net for his first goal of the season. The second would come from a break by Aarons who’s slide rule pass would be slotted home by the marauding Janmaat for his third of the season.
5-1. Just crazy.
The final whilst would bring even louder renditions of ‘Rafa Benitez’ songs even throughout the players parade into the centre circle after the game. The onlooking Ashey, who had decided to attend in person, will have been left in no doubt what he now has to do to salvage anything from this season in making Rafa an offer he can’t refuse to keep him.
For many of the players today is likely to be the very list time they will walk onto the St James Park turf as Newcastle United players. For most it is likely Newcastle fans will look back on a chequered time in our famous black and white shirt. There will also be hope (probably to be dashed) that we can keep some of our most influential players who have finally found form under Rafa.
Those questions, on manager and players, will have to be dealt with on another day. For now we look back on a wonderful performance both on and off the pitch and can but wonder what might have been.