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Newcastle v Spurs, 18.08.12

(5.30 PM)

Newcastle scorers:-
Ba, 54
Ben Arfa (pen), 80

Spurs scorer:-
Defoe, 76

Attendance:- 52,385

Referee:- Mr. Martin Atkinson
Assistants:- Mr. P. Kirkup & Mr. S. Burt
Fourth official:- Mr. L. mason

Newcastle (4-4-2):- Krul; Simpson, S. Taylor, Perch, Santon; Cabaye (sub Anita, 71), Ben Arfa, Tiote, Gutierrez (Capt.), Cisse, Demba Ba (sub Obertan, 85)

Subs not used:- Harper; Williamson; R. Taylor, Gosling; Sh Ameobi

Booked:- Simpson (foul on Bale), Cabaye (foul on Bale)

Spurs (4-2-3-1):- Friedel; Walker, Gallas (Capt), Kaboul, Assou-Ekotto; Sandro (sub Kane, 85), Livermore; Lennon, Sigurdsson (sub Van der Vaart, 68), Bale; Defoe

Subs not used:- Cudicini; Naughton, Vertonghen; Jenas, Townsend

Booked:- Livermore (foul on ben Arfa), Sandro (foul on Ben Arfa)

Ba! Spurs give Toon more than Arfa chance!

In short, the verdict on Andre Villas-Boas’s first official match in charge of Spurs has to be – “Bright start; some promising strategy and football; but still a need to eradicate stupid mistakes”. In other words, AVB was unable to affect the human element at Tottenham, which was demonstrated by the trait to make costly defensive errors, when Demba Ba was given too much space and time to place a beauty beyond Brad Friedel’s left hand, and two attacking players somehow found themselves in the box, having to try and stop the advance of Ben Arfa, conceding a penalty, which the victim easily converted. Spurs could easily have been 3-0 up at half-time, and whilst they dominated that half, Alan Pardew adjusted his orthodox formation to give the Spurs midfield more to think about.

The chosen formation of 4-2-3-1 was never as simple as that. The Spurs 5 man midfield was very fluid, with Livermore and Sandro alternating in taking a more forward role in front of the defence. Gylfi Sigurdsson had an excellent game, until he ran out of steam in the second half. Already it appears that he and Rafa van der Vaart will contest one team place. Sigurdsson took responsibility for dead ball situations, but also formed the vital link on many occasions between the other attacking players. Lennon was primarily on the right, but more and more, as the game progressed, Bale went a-wandering again, and we are left wondering how much of this is by design or inclination.

Having remarked about the promise displayed by the Spurs team (and there was plenty of good football played), ultimately, they did miss the additional skill and ability of Modric, and if he does go, then a suitable replacement is definitely required. Also, of course, despite scoring the Spurs goal, Spurs did miss a target man for some good midfield possession.

There was a good turn-out at the Sports Direct Arena, but the home section was kept pretty quiet by Spurs, who won two early corners, taken by Sigurdsson, neither of which was converted. Perhaps Kaboul came closest with his header. I should also mention the surprise exclusion of new signing Jan Vertonghen, who was on the bench. We had heard before the game that neither Dawson or Huddlestone had travelled, and perhaps they are victims of the continental discipline of players needing to meet certain pre-match physical fitness requirements.

Spurs had an exciting break after Assou-Ekotto made what looked like a dodgy clearance diagonally across his area, but the ball went directly to the feet of Aaron Lennon who raced away, passing inside to Sandro, whose pass found Sigurdsson offside. Another new strategy I noticed by Spurs was the desire to send decent curving balls down the flanks, and one such ball – a throw by Friedel – enabled Bale to race clear, except for the fact he was unfairly brought to a halt by right back Simpson, who got the first yellow card of the game. Referee Martin Atkinson was giving no early warnings, and both Livermore and Sandro went into his book for challenges upon the Newcastle runner Hatem Ben Arfa. Note that all of the Newcastle players listed as pre-match doubts started this game.

Newcastle’s first real threat came as a result of a shot on 21 minutes. My recollection is that Ba took the shot, and that Cisse got a somewhat involuntary touch to the ball, which passed just wide of Friedel’s right post. The Newcastle strikers might have been the other way round. After a foul on Bale about 25 yards out, Sigurdsson took the free kick, and saw Krul struggle to make a save at his right post to concede a corner. Three minutes later, Sigurdsson took a pot shot from distance, which passed just outside the same post.

Some good intricate passing midfield play after 31 minutes led to a chance for Defoe. Sandro and Sigurdsson had been involved in the build-up, and Defoe’s shot from the left rebounded off the post, with Krul beaten. Shortly after, Lennon was sent clear by a lovely long ball out of defence (possibly by Kaboul). Lennon’s chipped cross was met by a Bale header and rebounded clear off the bar. Spurs had another good break after 39 minutes, when Friedel punched clear to Lennon, who combined with Sigurdsson again, before Defoe’s shot went just over the bar. Kaboul sent a good ball down the left flank for Bale, but Newcastle cleared well. Cabaye got booked for an unfair challenge on Bale as he made another breakaway run.

The second half was a different kettle of fish. Newcastle upped the tempo and I felt that Ba played a more withdrawn role to strengthen the midfield. Spurs did have the first chance though, after Lennon received on the right of the box, carried the ball on a run towards the left side, then crossed for Defoe, from whom the ball was cleared. Assou-Ekotto won a good defensive battle against Ben Arfa’s advance, and did well to win a Spurs throw. Sigurdsson released Bale down the right channel with a great flick, but Bale ran it all the way to the goal-line and could not get any power on a cross.

Soon after that, Spurs fell foul to the old sucker punch. Right back Simpson got down the line and sent over a deep cross, which was only half cleared by Kyle Walker. Ba hit a measured shot across Friedel’s bows to cause a great roar around the ground, starting at the Gallowgate End.

Spurs tried to respond quickly, after Bale passed inside to Sigurdsson, whose right foot shot passed wide. An Assou-Ekotto rocket was punched clear by Krul with no great knowledge of the shot. Sigurdsson had clearly tired, and was replaced by an eager Van der Vaart, who made his presence known with an early long ball to Lennon who won a corner.

Cabaye was replaced by new signing Vurnon Anita.

Spurs put some pressure on the Newcastle goal, when Walker made a run, and fed Defoe, whose shot was well saved by Krul. Walker, Van der Vaart and Bale were all involved in a move which ended with a Lennon cross from the left, and a challenge by Defoe on Santon, whose header could not be held by Krul. Defoe swept up to level the scores. Sadly, within minutes, the Spurs impetus was negated by the folly of forwards trying to defend in their own area, conceding a penalty, which Ben Arfa converted, with Friedel committing himself in the wrong direction. Friedel also had to tip a Gutierrez pile driver over the bar, as Newcastle now played with great confidence, whilst Spurs ability to strike back simply fizzled out.

So, some fine tuning is required, before next week’s first home game, and we hope that Spurs’ season can at least start with the second and not third game this year.

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