IT was progress, of a kind.
Twelve months earlier, Newcastle United had been played off the park at White Hart Lane.
Not this time.
But Gareth Bale, predictably, was every bit as influential for Tottenham Hotspur.
Maybe the most surprising sight on Saturday afternoon wasn’t Bale finding the back of the net – twice – but that of Newcastle owner Mike Ashley enjoying a drink or two with supporters before the game.
Talk about entente cordiale.
It hadn’t happened since Kevin Keegan walked out of St James’s Park early in the club’s relegation season.
Remember the days when Ashley watched matches from the away end in the wake of his takeover?
Few thought he would mix so freely with supporters again.
After all, Ashley would have won few – if any – popularity contests on Tyneside since those dark days.
Yet there he was, supping drinks with fans, themselves heartened by last month’s signings and back to back victories over Chelsea and Aston Villa, in a pub a stone’s throw away from White Hart Lane.
However, the opening 15 minutes was sobering for Ashley and the club’s supporters. Newcastle hardly touched the ball in a period which saw Bale capitalise on a clumsy Fabricio Coloccini challenge by squeezing a free-kick between Tim Krul and his left-hand post.
That came in the fourth minute, and those who had witnessed last season’s embarrassing 5-0 capitulation at White Hart Lane must have feared the worst.
Tottenham moved the ball well, with their transfer-window signing Lewis Holtby – who covered a lot of ground, and used possession intelligently – impressing in midfield.
One of Newcastle’s own acquisitions – Moussa Sissoko – had a say in his first two games in a black and white shirt.
And it was Sissoko who popped up on the right wing in the 24th minute to pull the ball back for Yoan Gouffran, whose right-footed shot took a deflection off Michael Dawson on its way past Hugo Llorisand into the net.
The momentum, for a time, was with United.
And Sissoko, a powerful runner behind lone striker Papiss Demba Cisse, again caught the eye along with Gouffran, an energetic and willing player with a dangerous turn of pace.
Newcastle’s side had a balance which has been lacking all too often this season, and Andre Villas-Boas became increasingly agitated as the game wore on. His team was drifting, and he knew it.
Things slowly unravelled for the visitors after Gouffran left the field with a badly gashed shin as the hour-mark approached.
With him seemingly went United’s chances of getting another goal.
And Bale – who else? – got a winner for Spurs.
To Pardew’s frustration, Bale’s 78th-minute strike owed as much to Newcastle’s defending as the Welshman’s left foot. A ball was clipped over the high line by Kyle Walker for Bale to run on to, and Coloccini failed in a weak attempt to stop him.
Bale had a head start on Steven Taylor, and he coasted to the box before rolling the ball under Krul.
Game over? Not quite. There were chances at both ends – referee Phil Dowd played seven minutes of added time – in a fraught last few minutes which saw Krul deny Bale his hat-trick.
The defeat could have come at a greater cost – Gouffran escaped serious injury and Yohan Cabaye escaped a red card for a reckless challenge on Moussa Dembele – and the players, at least, left the field with their heads held high.
That couldn’t be said for last season’s visit to White Hart Lane.
While the result left United still needing 13 points to secure its Premier League status for another season, it didn’t dent the cautious optimism which has led to a thaw in relations between Ashley and supporters on a bitterly cold afternoon in North London.
But one thing the club won’t be doing under Ashley’s watch is buying the Bale’s of this world.
And ultimately he was the difference between the two sides.
NEWCASTLE UNITED: Krul 7; Debuchy 7, S Taylor 7, Coloccini 6, Santon 6; Cabaye 6, Perch 6 (Tiote, 81); Gutierrez 5 (Shola Ameobi, 85), Sissoko 7, GOUFFRAN 7 (Marveaux, 58, 6); Cisse 6. Subs not used: Harper, Anita, Yanga-Mbiwa, Obertan.
TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR:Lloris; Walker, Dawson, Caulker, Naughton (Assou-Ekotto, 74); Dembele (Livermore, 90), Parker; Lennon, Holtby (Adebayor, 68), Bale; Dempsey. Subs not used: Friedel, Vertonghen, Gallas, Sigurdsson.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Yoan Gouffran. United lost their way after he went off injured.
HIGHLIGHT: Gouffran’s performance. Loic Remy, arguably, wouldn’t have had such an impact for United had he signed instead of Gouffran.
LOWLIGHT: The defending for Gareth Bale’s winner – it was too easy for him.
Goals: Bale 5, 78, Gouffran 24
Bookings: Cabaye 89, Shola Ameobi 90
Referee: Phil Dowd (Staffordshire)