Newcastle United's players go their separate ways – as things come together on the pitch

Antonio Barreca and Rafa Benitez at the final whistle at Wembley.
Antonio Barreca and Rafa Benitez at the final whistle at Wembley.

It was an awful way to lose a game.

But it wasn’t an awful performance.

“Awful” was the word that attention-seeking Richard Keys, longtime critic of Rafa Benitez, used to describe Newcastle United at Wembley on Saturday.

Keys was quickly put right by Newcastle supporters – and fans of clubs around the country – as well as Ian Wright.

Yes, Benitez’s side were cautious – but they had to be against a title-challenging team featuring Heung-Min Son, Christian Eriksen and Erik Lamela.

They did what they had to do before the break, and pushed on in the second half.

Tottenham had first-half chances – Lucas Moura headed wide, Lamela struck the woodwork and Martin Dubravka parried a shot from Moussa Sissoko – but they had to work hard for them.

An unchanged Newcastle, just as they were against Manchester City at St James’s Park four days earlier, were organised and disciplined at an icy Wembley.

Chunks of ice fell from the arch throughout the game, and Salomon Rondon sent a chill down the spines of home supporters when he struck the post with a header early in the second half.

Fabian Schar hooked away goal-bound effort soon afterwards.

Keys’ first-half criticism had been that United hadn’t crossed the halfway line. Yet they spent a lot of time in Tottenham’s half after the break.

Ayoze Perez tested Hugo Loris, and Tottenham went more direct with substitute Fernando Llorente.

And it was a ball knocked up to Llorente by Toby Alderweireld which led to Son’s winning goal.

Lorente headed the ball back to Son, and his shot, struck from just outside the box, dipped as Dubravka dropped to catch it.

Everyone makes mistakes – even Dubravka.

And, ultimately, the difference between Newcastle United and Tottenham at Wembley was one misjudgment from the goalkeeper.

The goal condemned United to an eighth successive defeat at Wembley.

Benitez, Newcastle’s manager, said it had been a “positive week overall”.

The defeat came two days after the arrivals of Miguel Almiron and Antonio Barreca .

Almiron, a club-record £21million buy, and Barreca had arrived as Tyneside was still celebrating the win over City.

“It’s been a positive week, but overall to get three points against Man City which no one was expecting was a big boost and to get new faces in will boost the competition,” said Benitez.

“They can help and improve the team and overall it is a positive.”

Benitez also refused to blame Dubravka for the defeat, which left the club just two points above the relegation zone.

That’s too close for comfort, but some perspective is needed.

United have played five or the Premier League’s top six since Boxing Day.

There are more tough games to come, but there are also more winnable fixtures.

The club is in a better place than it was a week ago – and Benitez, in his own words, is “happier”.

Newcastle’s performance against Tottenham was far from awful. Benitez’s players followed his instructions and had Rondon’s header been a couple of inches to the left, then the outcome could have been different.

United’s players went their separate ways after the game.

Having been given a few days off, they left in their civvies. The flight home will have been a lot emptier.

They’d earned a break, and if they can play like they did against City and Tottenham, they’ll earn enough points to stay in the division.