Miles Starforth's match analysis: Newcastle United 5 Tottenham Hotspur 1

This was embarrassing for Tottenham Hotspur, for so long the second-best team in the Premier League.

By The Newsroom
Monday, 16th May 2016, 9:00 am
Rafa Benitez acknowledges the fans at full-time
Rafa Benitez acknowledges the fans at full-time

They were second-best at St James’s Park yesterday.

But it should be just as embarrassing for Newcastle United.

Aleksandar Mitrovic celebrates scoring his side's second goal

How can a team which can play like this be relegated? Just how?

It was almost shameful.

Why did the club’s players turn it on when it mattered least?

There was applause for the players after the club’s 5-1 win over Tottenham.

Aleksandar Mitrovic celebrates scoring his side's second goal

But, even on the back of a six-game unbeaten run, did they deserve the ovation they got at the final whistle?

Of course, much of it was for Rafa Benitez, who was implored to stay.

There was chant after chant in honour of Benitez, each one meant to tug at the heartstrings of the man they feel can rebuild a once-proud club.

However, Benitez – who met owner Mike Ashley for the first time after the match – will make a decision using his head.

And that’s the worry.

Is a man regarded as one of European football’s elite coaches prepared to risk his reputation in one of the most unforgiving divisions in the game?

Maybe. Maybe not.

Almost a year to the day after Jonas Gutierrez made certain of Newcastle’s Premier League status last season with a goal and an assist, the club ended its seven-year stay in English football’s top flight.

This season there were no heroes.

United were anything but heroic over the course of a troubled and troubling campaign.

But did offer a glimpse of what might have been on a sunny afternoon at the stadium.

Benitez recalled Daryl Janmaat and Steven Taylor to his starting XI with Vurnon Anita and Jamaal Lascelles unavailable because of injury and illness.

Janmaat and Taylor’s appearances could prove to be their last for the club.

Mitrovic, a substitute in the latter weeks of the season, also started ahead of Papiss Cisse, who had made a fitful contribution up front at Villa Park eight days earlier.

Could Mitrovic, like Andy Carroll did in 2009-10, spearhead a successful Championship promotion campaign?

We saw the good, the bad and the ugly against Tottenham.

But the striker, unquestionably, would score goals in the Championship, though it will have to be from a standing start, as he will have to serve a four-game ban for his second-half dismissal for raking his studs down Kyle Walker’s shin.

Mitrovic – who had a long chat with Tottenham head coach Mauricio Pochettino before kick-off at St James’s Park – was involved in three early chances for United, who had the better of the opening exchanges.

Pochettino will have been impressed, if frustrated, at the early problems Mitrovic caused for his team.

There were chants for Benitez from the first whistle.

And they grew louder after Georginio Wijnaldum opened the scoring in the 19th minute with his first goal since January.

Moussa Sissoko rolled the ball across the box to Mitrovic, who laid it off for Wijnaldum, who beat Lloris with a neat finish to take his goal tally for the season to 10.

A light aircraft, paid for by Sunderland fans, then made several passes over the stadium with a banner saying “Auf wiedersen Prem, Tyne to go” midway through the half.

Of more concern to the crowd was what was happening on the field, where a strangely off-the-pace Tottenham were being out-played and out-thought by their team.

And six minutes before the interval, Mitrovic made it 2-0 to Newcastle. Or “2-0, to the Championship”, as the crowd quickly chanted.

Sissoko broke down the right and crossed for Mitrovic, who directed his header past Lloris at his near post.

United took their two-goal lead into the break – Karl Darlow denied Christian Eriksen before the interval – and Pochettino opted against making a change for the second half.

Tottenham were marginally better after the break, and Lamela somehow beat Karl Darlow at his near post with a thumping shot in the 60th minute.

Cheick Tiote was then replaced by Jonjo Shelvey, whose arrival back in January had led to renewed hope that the club could stay up.

That hope was finally extinguished last week.

After Mitrovic’s dismissal for his mindless lunge, Newcastle came back at Tottenham.

Sissoko, under pressure from Jan Vertonghen and Christian Eriksen, went down, and Wijnaldum converted the resulting penalty.

Late goals from substitute Rolando Aarons and Janmaat, playing with a cast on his fractured hand, followed as United, driven on by the superb Andros Townsend, stretched the game, while 20-year-old defender Jamie Sterry made his debut.

There were smiles after the final whistle as Benitez and his players went to the centre circle to applaud the club’s fans.

Some of the players will be back. Some won’t. And we don’t yet know whether Benitez will return to manage in the Championship.

As ever, there are more questions than answers at the club.

But why could the team have not played like this more often?