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Moment of madness from Jonjo Shelvey costs Newcastle as Spurs canter to victory
Newcastle United joined fellow promoted side Brighton & Hove Albion in being well-defeated in their first game of the Premier League season, but until a moment of madness by captain Jonjo Shelvey at the start of the second half, Rafa Benitez’s team had made a good fist of things in their return to the top flight.
Spurs came into the game having won only twice in their past seven opening games, all of which were away, and the home side started as brightly as the sunshine which swathed St James’ Park, passing the ball around with verve and displaying fine movement.
As early as the fourth minute, Dwight Gayle broke the Spurs offside trap, but mishit the ball over the bar when he had time to unleash a more measured shot.
A minute later another promising move by Newcastle foundered against the visitors’ resolute backline, anchored as ever by the central partnership of Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen, who have helped Spurs to the best defensive record for the past two Premier League seasons.
Spurs had an early chance after a break down the middle from former Newcastle midfielder Moussa Sissoko, who was booed by the Gallowgate faithful every time he touched the ball, resulted in a corner, but it came to naught.
Newcastle then suffered the first of two defensive substitutions in the first half, when Paul Dummett was pulled off after suffering a hamstring injury while defending another Spurs attack. He was later joined on the bench by Florian Lejeune following a heavy challenge from Harry Kane that resulted in a booking for the Spurs striker.
Notoriously sluggish at the start of the season, Spurs were playing at a lazy tempo, with only debutant Kyle Walker-Peters – a replacement for his near-namesake Kyle Walker on the visitors’ right side – and Christian Eriksen showing any invention or energy. Eric Dier and Kane were largely anonymous during the half, while Dele Alli huffed and puffed to little effect as the reshaped Newcastle defence held firm.
For the home side, Christian Atsu, signed from Chelsea after a season’s loan in the Championship, was lively on the left wing, although when crosses made their way into the box it looked like Gayle, the fulcrum of Newcastle’s attack, was carrying an inury.
Beyond a few speculative long-range shots by Eriksen, the game dawdled to half time with neither side seriously threatening a goal, and despite the injuries to half of his defenders, Benitez would have been happier than Spurs counterpart Mauricio Pochettino at the stalemate.
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However, the game turned three minutes into the second half when Shelvey, having tried to grab the ball from a prone Alli to take a quick free kick in front of the Newcastle penalty area, decided to reward the England midfielder’s efforts to hold onto the ball with a step on the ankle, directly in front of referee Andre Marriner.
A straight red was proffered within seconds for what must be the most idiotic of the three reds that Shelvey has picked up during his career, and from this moment Spurs were fired up and Newcastle had to fight to save a draw.
They actually almost scored from the next move of the game, as Gayle forced a save from Hugo Lloris in the Spurs goal, but over the next 10 minutes the visitors ratcheted up the tension, with Alli drawing another tackle which could also have seen a red card for Matt Ritchie, although the winger escaped with only a yellow card.
Sissoko was taken off after 57 minutes, a tactical swap for Son Heung-min, and within three minutes Spurs took the lead. Kane and Eriksen, whose influence on the game was growing, played a set of passes back and forth before the ball came to Alli in the box and he hit it into the ground to see it squirm past Rob Elliot.
Spurs have never lost a game in which Alli has scored, and they made this game secure in the 69th minute when a beautiful passing move intitiated by Mousa Dembele, then facilitated by Alli and Kane, ended with Ben Davies stroking the ball into the Newcastle net from close range.
It looked like the last 20 minutes would be an exercise in damage limitation for the home side, but they actually had their best spell of the game with 10 minutes remaining when Atsu had two shots at goal and their intensity almost threw Spurs, but the visitors held on.
Kane, who has yet to score a Premier League goal in August, almost broke his hoodoo and notch up his 100th goal for Spurs but he hit the post from inside the penalty box after a rampaging run from Son had put him in the clear.
Benitez will be furious that his side’s efforts in the first half were thrown away by the immaturity of Shelvey, and will find out the extent of his defensive headache when the medical reports come back on Dummett and Lejeune.
For Spurs, next week sees a clash with the only side to finish above them in the Premier League last season, Chelsea. After the champions slipped up against Burnley on Saturday, and both Gary Cahill and Cesc Fabregas suspended following their red cards, the North Londoners could make a flying start to this year’s campaign.