Newcastle United at St James' Park Newcastle United at St James' Park

Villas-Boas’ Tottenham Suffer Opening Day Defeat at Newcastle


Tottenham, in their first Premier League match under Andre Villas-Boas, lost to Newcastle United at St James’ Park having had the better of the first half but were the architect’s of their own defeat in the second, conceding two goals which should have been avoided. In the first half Tottenham hit the woodwork twice but failed to capitalise on their domination and then after the interval, two pieces of poor defensive work presented Newcastle with their goals, the second only three minutes after Spurs had drawn level through Jermain Defoe.

Newcastle United 2  Tottenham Hotspur 1

Scorers: Ba, Ben Arfa (pen)               Defoe

Team: Friedel; Walker, Gallas, Kaboul, Assou-Ekotto; Lennon, Sandro (Kane), Sigurdsson (Van der Vaart), Livermore, Bale; Defoe Subs: (unused) Cudicini, Naughton, Vertonghen, Jenas, Townsend

Andre Villas-Boas’ team selection had Brad Friedel in goal, starting his ninth consecutive Premier League season and William Gallas as captain in central defence with new signing Jan Vertonghen on the bench. The other new signing, Gylfi Sigurdsson started in central midfield with Sandro and Jake Livermore while Rafael Van der Vaart was among the substitutes. Aaron Lennon and Gareth Bale both began wide with Defoe as the lone striker.In spite of reports on numerous injuries, Newcastle had only Faricio Coloccini absent.

Tottenham made a positive start with two early corners as they put the home defence under pressure, controlling the pace of the game. The first chance came when Benoit Assou-Ekotto, under pressure near the left corner flag, cut back into the penalty and played a diagonal ball out to the right which found Lennon free with Defoe and Bale forward in support against one defender. He took th eball on towards the penalty area and passed inside to Sandro who miscontrolled the ball but was able to play in Sigurdsson whose shot was saved by the goalkeeper. The Spurs player was incorrectly ruled offside but Lennon could have made better use of the opportunity.

With Tottenham pressure on the Newcastle defenders, they were having to play the ball long, by-passing midfield and frequently returning possession to Spurs who were keeping them pinned back near their own penalty area. Defoe had a shot and a good Brad Friedel clearance from a dangerous cross found Bale who went on the counter attack but he was brought down by Simpson who was booked. Livermore and Sandro were also booked with less than twenty minutes played.

Then Newcastle’s first dangerous moment almost brought a goal when a shot by Ba was deflected by Cisse and went just past the post with Friedel wrong-footed as the home side came more into the game. It was Spurs who were more threatening with Lennon and Bale being brought down at any sign of danger. After 25 minutes a Sigurdasson free-kick was saved by Tim Krul, low at his post. Five minutes later, the midfielder shot from distance but had better options with support around. Continuing their control, Defoe had a run and shot three minutes later which hit the post but the ball rebounded behind Sigurdsson who was following up. On 36 minutes, a run and cross by Lennon on the right found Bale at the back post but his header hit the bar.

Spurs were maintaining good shape with four, five and at times six players lined up to put pressure on the Newcastle defenders whenever they were in possession, preventing them from playing through midfield. Five minutes before half-time, Friedel punched a long cross clear enabling Tottenham to counter attack through Bale and Defoe who shot over. A late cross in added time was headed clear by Gallas under pressure.

Newcastle started the second half with more intent and put the Tottenham defence under early pressure but they coped comfortably and responded with a run by Lennon into the box and a cross towards Defoe which was cleared. After 51 minutes Bale broke on the right to run on goal but he failed to decide how best to use the ball and ran it out of play for a goal kick. Three minutes after this Newcastle were ahead when Walker headed a long cross up in the air which Ba collected and curled a shot beyond Friedel and in a the far post for his first goal in six months.

The Tottenham response saw Sigurdsson curl a shot wide after the ball appeared to have crossed the line for a throw in. Pardew was sent to the stands for pushing the official in his annoyance. On the hour a shot by Assou-Ekotto was punched clear by the goalkeeper and with 22 minutes left Van der Vaart was introduced in place of Sigurdsson. He immediately lifted a pass to Lennon who controlled the all on his chest but it was cleared before he could shoot. Spurs were looking more dangerous with Walker playing in Defoe but his low shot was saved. Defoe then went on a run and had a shot blocked for Spurs’ fifth corner. Three minutes after this Spurs were level. Van der Vaart found Bale who put it wide to Lennon on the left. His cross was headed down by Defoe and saved on to the post by the goalkeeper. Jermain Defoe reacted quickest to deservedly equalise after 77 minutes.

Almost immediately, a Tiote shot was blocked for Newcastle’s second corner by Sandro who was injured. After treatment, Newcastle took a short corner and Ben Arfa received the ball and took it towards the edge of the box where Van der Vaart and Lennon in trying to stop him brought him down to concede an unnecessary penalty. Ben Arfa took it himself and Friedel dived the wrong way, even though Van der Vaart was pointing for him to dive to his left where Ben Arfa planted the ball.

Spurs were disappointed to go behind again only four minutes after drawing level. Friedel saved from distance after 83 minutes, tipping the ball over for a corner. With five minutes remaining Harry Kane replaced Sandro to make his Premier League debut but Spurs were unable to find a late equaliser to earn a point.

Tottenham were well-organised and gave a disciplined performance against a Newcastle team who are always hard to beat. Newcastle were concerned with the Tottenham pace and didn’t commit many players forward as Spurs constantly pressurised them when in possession. Andre Villas-Boas will be disappointed at the nature of the goals conceded but should take encouragement from the performance and the effort put in by all the players and the level of control that Tottenham had on a ground where they traditionally find it extremely difficult to win. This was always going to be a difficult opening for Tottenham, given their lack of options for strikers and that they have not found a replacement for Luka Modric’s creative role. Tottenham deserved to take something from the game but when Newcastle got the opportunity they took their chances which enabled them to play the game as they wanted with the security provide by the goal.

The next two weeks will be vital for Spurs to ensure that they sign the players they require to give Villas-Boas the opportunity to implement the style of play that he envisages for his Tottenham team.