It was, perhaps, the freest of free hits: a so-far abject Newcastle United away to one of the Premier League’s finest teams – a side who were playing in a Champions League final just a few short months ago.
The travelling Toon Army wandered up the Seven Sisters road in fairly muted spirits, hoping simply for a respectable performance. At a few minutes before 3pm, the notion of points was as fanciful as an Arab sheik rocking up at Newcastle Central Station and asking directions to Gallowgate.
Still, spirits were buoyed somewhat by the searing summer heat and a stunning win for England in the cricket as we filed into a ground which looks like the love child of the Alien (from, er Alien) and a Westfield shopping centre. Architectural jibes aside, it’s a deeply impressive ground which skirts all the pitfalls of the so-called London Stadium a few miles to the east; its steep-sided bowl amplifying the noise impressively.
And so to the match itself, with United taking to the pitch in their bright orange change strip, a sartorial choice which provoked a few ironic comparisons to the Netherlands national side.
After a week in which Steve Bruce had rightly had his loose semblance of tactics savaged by media and fans alike, the head coach reverted to Rafaball™ – two central midfielders and a bolstered defence with the game plan of containing and hitting on the break. And it worked a charm.
Tottenham weren’t their usual selves, but suggestions that they lacked creativity entirely are wide of the mark. United were simply too disciplined, with players swarming around the ball when required and packing the box. Harry Kane barely had a sniff all afternoon, a testament to a structure and discipline we thought lost.
Travelling Mags groaned when new signing Allan Saint-Maximin was taken off after just 17 minutes, seemingly rushed back from injury too early. But we needn’t have worried: Christian Atsu, who hadn’t played any competitive football since June, was a revelation.
He’s a player who I’ve long backed but here he had his finest game in a black and white shirt. At once calm, industrious and creative; he set the Spurs defence on edge. On a number of occasions he broke forward, drawing three or four Spurs defenders to the wing, before cooly bringing a teammate into play to drive the attack on further.
Joelinton got his first Premier League goal for the club on 27 minutes, and what a goal it was: a lofted ball in from Atsu before a sublime touch from the Brazilian to move the ball out of reach from the retreating defender. He then slotted home to send the Mags in the stands wild.
From then on it was a case of sticking to the game-plan, which the defence did magnificently. Paul Dummett in particular was deserving of high praise, making 12 clearances including a couple of key interceptions. Krafth too, was a different player to the one we saw flailing around Carrow Road just eight days prior. Goalscorer Joelinton put in a defensive shift too, exhausting himself in the process.
There were some nerves jangling when referee Mike Dean went to a VAR review after captain Jamaal Lascelles tangled with Harry Kane in the box, but it wasn’t to be the England striker’s day.
United held on for a stunning result, lauded in some quarters as the club’s finest away win since promotion a few years ago.
Whether that’s true or not, all involved at White Hart Lane deserve praise for a deeply impressive turnaround. We head onto Leicester in the cup and Watford in the league next weekend with renewed hope, if not quite optimism. Just 37 points to go.