Steve Bruce's accumulation of points theory comes good as Newcastle United snatch one from the jaws of Spurs defeat
Playing well with no result is just not good enough at the business end of the Premier League season – luckily this time, Newcastle United did not end this one empty-handed.
Much-changed, transformed Newcastle United did enough to win against Tottenham Hotspur, and were more than worthy of at least a point – but had to settle for the latter, in a game which looked like it was set to slip away from them, until Joe Willock popped up with a late leveller for the fighting Magpies.
Under-fire frontman Joelinton gave Steve Bruce’s battlers – who’d have thought we’d be saying that after the Amex debacle – the lead before a Harry Kane double put Jose Mourinho & Co in cruise control.
But, like Aston Villa that went before it, United showed some fire and fight to claim a point from the jaws of defeat, which could, in the typically cliched way, be crucial when they meet their maker at the end of the Premier League campaign.
United have been resolute in their stance on the false nine, split strikers 4-3-3 since coach Graeme Jones came to the club, and despite calls for systematic pragmatism when personnel failed them, they stuck to their guns.
This approach was thrown out the window in the space of one international break, as Jones and Bruce conjured confusion and intrigue in equal measure with their pre-game calls.
In from the cold came the likes of Matt Ritchie, Dwight Gayle and Sean Longstaff – all of whom Bruce has fallen out with, Longstaff by far the most controversially – as well as Emil Krafth and Jacob Murphy in a back five, with three in front of that and two up top, Joelinton keeping his place despite an awful show at Brighton.
Callum Wilson was deemed not fit enough for the bench, while Andy Carroll, Ryan Fraser and Federico Fernandez were conspicuous by their absence.
However, Elliot Anderson, Matty Longstaff and Allan Saint-Maximin were back on the agenda, some of them surprisingly, on the bench.
Porous. That’s probably the best description of Newcastle’s back three/five in the opening exchanges.
Krafth (*insert generic Twitter cheese joke in here) allowed Carlos Vinicius the chance to find Kane within seconds of the start – it was a warning he did not learn from – while the England skipper fired a shot across the bows in calling Martin Dubravka into action.
The new system did, however, for 30 minutes allow United to have a semblance of threat in the final third. Playing two forwards in actual striker roles did, unsurprisingly give the shaky-looking Spurs backline something to think about.
Having weathered an early storm, they did them start to grasp a foothold of their own in the encounter – and it was the recalled Gayle who could, and should, have capitalised.
A header from six yards out deflected wide, his reaction, slamming hands down on his thighs, told the story of what he thought of his effort. Then another, this time seemingly well-placed, header was clawed out by Hugo Lloris, only for the Frenchman to somehow keep out the rebound from the striker from close range.
The chances continued to flow, with the press, still less prevalent than before, returning and creating an opener for the Magpies. Matt Ritchie’s hard-work in recycling possession saw Sean Longstaff presented with the chance to shoot, resisting any glory he laid the ball on a plate for Joelinton, who made no mistake, doubling his Premier League tally against Spurs in one swoop of his right leg.
That joy didn’t last long, though. Around 90 seconds to be precise.
Krafth’s inexplicable mess up of a clearance presented Kane with the easiest of chances from close range and it was 1-1.
Shell-shocked, any foothold crumbled for United, as more hospitable defending, just four minutes later, this time down Paul Dummett’s side of the three saw Tanguy Ndombele set Kane free and a low, powerful strike arrowed into the corner, giving Dubravka no chance.
Rattled at the break, United could at least take positivity from the fact Spurs too were looking less than solid in their own defensive third. It felt far from over.
Jacob Murphy advanced as the Magpies started the second half with renewed vigour, the right wing-back seeing two powerful drives blocked before Sean Longstaff, a big improvement on the expected Jeff Hendrick change, smashed over on the half volley.
Miguel Almiron, an ever-willing runner and constant buzzing presence in attack, was United’s saviour with 20 to play as he nodded a Japhet Tanganga header off the line, following a poor punch from a Spurs corner by Dubravka.
Two of his four top flight strikes have come against Spurs but it should have been three for Joelinton when he perfectly took down a Krafth centre at the back post but somehow found the advertising hoardings behind the goal, with the Gallowgate net gaping.
As United threw caution to the wind, with Saint-Maximin coming on in a central striking role, they were rewarded with the goal their efforts deserved, not without fear at the other end as Kane struck the upright, as Arsenal loan man Willock popped up with an emphatic close-range finish to level late for United, against a club who’ve been his rivals since he signed for Arsenal as a kid.
A point earned, and deservedly so, who knows how crucial this could prove come May?
After the surrender on the south coast, this was more like it from United. There seems to be fight in this old dog yet, long may it continue.