Newcastle’s first Premier League fixture since their last in 2015 – coincidentally, both against Tottenham Hotspur at St. James’ Park – ended in a 2-0 defeat after Rafa Benitez’s boys went down to ten men as captain Jonjo Shelvey saw red for a stamp on Spurs midfielder Dele Alli.
On the surface, the result and its consequences hint at a difficult start to life back in the English top flight, not least because Newcastle will now be without their skipper and chief playmaker for the next three games.
But scratch a little deeper and there were genuine positives to take from Newcastle’s 2-0 defeat the hands of last season’s runners-up in the Premier League. Don’t believe us? FootballFanCast takes a look at three…
Shelvey will be livid with himself after one of the most petulant red card offences you’ll ever see in the Premier League, not least because his side were well and truly in the match until Andre Marriner dismissed the England international just after half time.
At that point, Spurs had dominated the ball with 68% possession but only managed two shots on target, neither of which particularly tested Rob Elliot, with Benitez’s game plan clearly working. In fact, the pressure was arguably beginning to build on the Lilywhites, who probably expected the Toon to concede in the first half following their return to the top flight.
Of course, we’ll never know what the result would’ve been had Shelvey stayed on the pitch. But the positive for Newcastle to take forward is that they gave one of the best sides in the Premier League a decent run for their money when it was still eleven vs eleven.
Clearly, Benitez’s tactics are effective in stifling top-quality attacks and that game plan can be used again when other major clubs make the trip to St. James’ Park.
No doubt, Newcastle fans are an ambitious bunch, who will want their side to claim dramatic wins over the likes of Tottenham when backed by an ever-boisterous support at St. James’ Park.
But from a purely pragmatic perspective, losing by just two goals is pretty good going for a recently promoted side with ten men facing a team that came second in the title race last season – especially considering Benitez lost two of his starting defenders, Paul Dummett and Florian Lejeune, to injury in the first half.
Take Brighton for example; they lost 2-0 with all eleven men to Manchester City and didn’t even have a sniff at goal. Likewise, an incredibly experienced West Ham side travelled to Old Trafford and suffered a 4-0 drubbing. We won’t get a true barometer of how big a threat Spurs, United and City will be in the title race this season for a few more weeks but as things stand on paper, Newcastle escaped relatively unscathed from a game that could have ended a lot worse for them.
Come the end of the season, conceding just two instead of imploding defensively could well be the difference between survival and relegation.
The game was already over and Tottenham knew they only had to hang on for the victory, but Newcastle did manage to ask some questions of Hugo Lloris late in the second half through Christian Atsu and Ciaran Clark – the latter effort highlighting the threat they’ll carry from set pieces this season.
Although it came at a cost of letting the game stretch at the other end, Newcastle’s late flurry proved they do have the quality to create chances against well-organised defences – in fact, Tottenham topped the Premier League’s defensive charts last season – and a bit more composure could well have seen them bag their first goal of the season.
Atsu’s dribbling and Ritchie’s dead ball delivery looked like two potent weapons that could definitely cause damage against the Premier League’s lesser sides and even create a few problems for the big boys.
Of course, showing that ability in attack over a whole game is a lot different to throwing men forward when you’re already 2-0 down, but the way Newcastle ended the match showed they do have the offensive quality to be competitive this season.