Monday, January 15, 2007

White Heart Lane

Tottenham Hotspur 2 - 3 Newcastle Utd

And Sunday is supposed to be the day of rest. Of repose. Of relaxation.

Not when Newcastle Utd are concerned.

In a thrilling game at White Hart Lane, we beat Spurs by three goals to two to put an end to our unenviable record of having lost every league game in which we had gone behind this season. It was a good all-round performance from the men (or, in many cases, boys) in black and white - but our hosts will still be scratching their heads this time next week wondering just how they failed to pick up at least a point.

Peter Ramage was back on the teamsheet, but with Scott Parker and Emre both missing through injury our central midfield duo was comprised of Kieron Dyer and Nicky Butt, just about recovered from flu, with Matty Pattison coming in on the left.

Spurs came out of the traps at breakneck speed, no doubt keen to make amends for their pathetic display at St James' Park just before Christmas that saw them two down with barely seven minutes on the clock. Missing that day was Jermain Defoe, injured in the warm-up, and it was he who was the major threat in the early stages, forcing Shay Given into a couple of good saves and blasting over on the volley, while Steed Malbranque also tested the Irishman's reflexes.

It was little surprise when the pair combined to put our opponents ahead. A Newcastle attack was broken up, Tom Huddlestone's long ball enabled Malbranque to advance into space and curl a perfect ball into the box with the outside of his right boot. Defoe was offside, but the flag stayed down and he slid the ball wide of Given's dive.

Thankfully, we were back on terms only two minutes later when, as in the Man Utd game, our youthful out-of-position left back scored his first senior goal. Then it was David Edgar; this time it was relative first team veteran Paul Huntington who fired home from an acute angle via Paul Robinson's foot after the ball dropped kindly for him from James Milner's right wing free kick.

Spurs shaded the remainder of the first half, with Given called into action on a few more occasions as Aaron Lennon got the bit between his teeth and set about terrorising our defence, while Malbranque lobbed wide of an open goal with Given having raced out to block a through ball. At the other end, Robinson wasn't allowed to be a complete spectator, Obafemi Martins forcing him into an important tip over.

Frustrated by our 'keeper's heroics, the Spurs players then started trying to unsettle him by underhand means, Pascal Chimbonda barging him over and Dimitar Berbatov insisting on blocking his goal kicks. A furious Given complained to referee Steve Bennett at half time - and then all hell broke loose, Chimbonda slapping Butt and receiving a shove in the chest in return with the scuffles continuing in the tunnel. The Frenchman could and probably should have walked, but instead received a yellow, the same punishment as Butt.

Less than ten minutes into the second half Spurs regained the lead - and inevitably Chimbonda was involved. Pattison squandered the chance to give us the lead, heading just wide from Milner's cross, and Spurs immediately went down the other end of the pitch. Malbranque played in Chimbonda, Taino's shot from the resulting pull-back was blocked by Nobby Solano, but Berbatov was on hand to volley into the ground and past Given.

The sucker punch, it seemed. Not so - to the enormous credit of our young patched-up side.

Martins, who had for much of the game cut a forlorn figure up front, exchanged passes with the lively Dyer before rocketing the ball past Robinson from distance - an extraordinary strike, and one which will live long in the memory.

Suddenly it was Spurs who were deflated, and a minute later we were ahead. Martins slid a cute ball into Butt who, having stolen a march on his marker Tainio, fired in a low shot across Robinson and in off the post.

A bemused Martin Jol rang the changes, sending on Robbie Keane and Didier Zokora, and his revitalised side reacted to dangerous effect. Defoe, who had been much quieter in the second period, belted the ball off an upright and out to safety, while another shot hit Solano on the arm - though he was turning sideways to avoid the shot and made no voluntary attempt to handle, so a penalty would have been horribly harsh. Berbatov made a laughable hash of a late chance, and finally the rollercoaster ride was over.

Not an unmitigatedly brilliant performance, then - our defending in particular was often desperate if committed against a very pacey and attack-minded Spurs side - but it was hugely gratifying to see us refuse to buckle under the strain and recover from deficits not just once but twice, and then go on to win. And a splendid goal to celebrate, too.

Could it have got much better? Well, yes, JJ could have been in the losing side...

A Spurs fan's perspective: Harry Hotspur

Other reports: BBC, Guardian


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