Steve Bruce must have felt a familiar shudder of apprehension as Harry Kane passed him in the tunnel before the start of Sunday. The Newcastle manager has long subscribed to the theory that “teams are only as good as their forwards” and, in Kane, Tottenham have a world-class center forward.
It is not the first time that the English forward has been pleased to demonstrate precisely why he is so coveted with a complete and consummate performance capped by two goals scored in the space of four minutes into the first half.
Some kamikazes defending apart Newcastle played in the much improved way of a team that appears to have reached a truce with a coach who several players expected to be fired at the start of the international break.
This new determination was rewarded with a secured point courtesy of Joe Willock’s 85th-minute draw, a goal that could still have a significant influence on both relegation-avoiding run and Champions League places.
While keeping Newcastle out of the bottom three, that leveler also ruled that José Mourinho had to settle for his Spurs team moving up to fifth rather than fourth while continuing his somewhat dubious record at St James’ Park. A man mentored by former Newcastle manager Sir Bobby Robson has won just one in nine visits to the field, where Robson always told him he should one day be a coach.
Considering that Bruce and Mourinho are currently vying for an unwanted crowning as the Premier League’s least popular coach, such a scenario is not beyond the limits of possibility. In fact, the duel in the technical area looked like a kind of beauty pageant in reverse.
The small group of Newcastle fans who had gathered outside St James’ Park 90 minutes before kick-off certainly did not seem to have made the journey to applaud the home coach. In a perhaps desperate attempt to alter those hostile perceptions, not to mention the positive performance of his players, Bruce made five alterations to the dismembered 3-0 squad in Brighton a fortnight ago, with Arsenal loan officer Willock among those discarded.
There was also an abandonment of the 4–3-1-2 system devised by his new assistant Graeme Jones when Newcastle returned at three in the rear-wheel drive configuration, loved by Rafael Benítez. He facilitated a first start for Matt Ritchie as the left-back called Bruce a “wimp” in a well-documented altercation on training ground.
Happily for Bruce, Ritchie looked anything but rusty and played an effective role in a fairly even start. Although the Spurs looked menacing at halftime, the top two early chances fell to Newcastle’s so-called Dwight Gayle.
He first connected with a high cross from Jonjo Shelvey, but his header was a bit weak and Hugo Lloris was able to stop it. The rebound conveniently landed at Gayle’s feet and called a goal but instead Lloris smothered the shot and Mourinho breathed a little easier.
Newcastle, however, sported a different side to their default formation and, with Davinson Sánchez having some shaky defensive moments, Bruce’s players briefly took over. They deserved to take what would be a strictly temporary advantage when an unmarked Joelinton swept a guaranteed 10-yard shot past Lloris after meeting low center Sean Longstaff late on a play started when Ritchie enjoyed the best challenge with Pierre- Emile Højbjerg.
Unfortunately for Newcastle, all that good work was undone just two minutes later when Giovani Lo Celso slid a dangerous ball through the area. Martin Dubravka seemed to have him covered, but Emil Krafth decided to try to clear only to miss the ball and get in the way of his goalkeeper. Amid the confusion, the ball bounced toward Kane, who needed no invitation to throw it into the back of the net.
It wasn’t long before Kane scored again. This time, Tanguy Ndombele’s direct pass cut through Newcastle’s back line and caught an England center forward on the right side of the box.
All that was left was for the scorer to take a stabilizing touch before directing a perfectly calibrated shot, at an angle, just beyond Dubravka’s reach. Kane scored his 162nd Premier League goal at such a rate that it was virtually unstoppable.
Meanwhile, scoring Mourinho’s No. 10 raised doubts among Bruce’s defenders as he regularly moved between them with glorious ease, taking the shine off a much-improved home performance.
At least, the Newcastle manager was able to pick up some spirits from the moment Jacob Murphy’s low ball from the right seemed to precipitate a Gayle goal only for Joe Rodon to slip in with an impressive late interception.
Mourinho introduced Son Heung-min at half-time, retiring Carlos Vinícius while Bruce waited until the 70th minute to introduce Allan Saint-Maximin after his absence induced by a groin injury.
By then Miguel Almirón had cleared the line to deny Japhet Tanganga a header goal after Dubravka hit Lo Celso’s corner kick.
As the minutes ticked by, the Spurs appeared to be heading for fourth place and surely would have secured it if Kane hadn’t dragged a shot off a post with Dubravka defeated.
It was a costly failure as, shortly after, Willock, just released from the bank, tied.
Since Saint-Maximin’s dribble had left Mourinho’s rear in a bit of disarray, Ritchie was able to make a curled cross, Joelinton nodded back before Almiron saw his own head butt slip out of line. The ball traveled only to Willock, who hit it past Lloris from six yards.
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