Joelinton’s first Magpies goal earns Steve Bruce crucial win at sluggish Spurs
Tottenham Hotspur were expected to be the third-best team in the Premier League and they might be. Yet on the evidence of this 1-0 defeat by Newcastle United they are so far behind Manchester City and Liverpool it is frightening. Steve Bruce’s team came to north London with a plan and Spurs rarely looked like unsettling their opponents.
Joelinton scored the only goal after 27 minutes and the striker unnerved the Tottenham defence all afternoon. By contrast, Harry Kane was quiet. It was not an afternoon to remember for the England captain.
Newcastle sat deep and let the home side have the ball. Spurs did not use it effectively. There was a sniff of danger when Heung-min Son drove into the area early on and was rather clumsily stopped by Fabian Schar but the referee remained unmoved despite the anger – and VAR gestures – from the crowd.
Newcastle grew more confident on the break as the game developed. Joelinton released Sean Longstaff, whose shot fizzed over the bar when a cross might have brought greater rewards. Spurs ignored the warnings. Joelinton showed an impressive touch and clever movement and he was allowed to drift into space between the dozing centre backs as the half hour approached. Davinson Sanchez, ball-watching, saw Christian Atsu flip a simple pass to the Brazilian and the striker took a casual-looking touch before loping across the area and firing into the net with pure power. It was not what the home crowd expected.
The goal produced a spurt of energy from Tottenham. Son eventually got a shot on target for the home side but Martin Dubravka was strong at his near post. Lucas Moura was inches away from getting his head to a cross. Yet Newcastle were never quite under siege. They were holding their shape – everyone except Joelinton behind the ball – and their nerve.
Tottenham racked up minutes of pointless possession as the game wore on. Things were going nowhere and it could have been worse when Atsu found Joelinton in the box but the striker scuffed a difficult bouncing ball. Just before the hour Mauricio Pochettino brought on Christian Eriksen and Giovani Lo Celso for Kyle Walker-Peters and Lamela but the impact was marginal.
Tottenham were too slow getting the ball forward. They were particularly ponderous around the final third.
Joelinton will win many friends this season and his physical, robust style suits a team that need to sit deep and rely on a hold-up striker when they break. The £40 million signing from Hoffenheim has another side, though. He miscontrolled a long ball and went down as if suffering a serious injury. The Tottenham players clearly suspected it was an act and played on while Newcastle defenders pleaded with the referee to stop the game. When the away team eventually gained possession and put the ball out of play, harsh words were exchanged in the technical area. Joelinton was, of course, brimming good health when the game restarted.
VAR reared its ugly head when Jamaal Lascelles appeared to impede Kane and the England captain fell to the floor in the area. The centre-back slipped but there seemed to be clear contact. Newcastle breathed a sigh of relief when the referee signalled for the game to resume.
There were chances as Bruce’s team tired. Moussa Sissoko – relentlessly booed by Newcastle fans – set up Moura, who somehow turned his shot over but as Spurs piled on the pressure they were even more vulnerable at the back. Joelinton and Miguel Almiron combined and the Paraguayan curled an effort agonisingly wide.
Tottenham now go to Arsenal next week with the pressure building. A north London derby is the last thing Pochettino needs. He does not want to be second-best at the Emirates.