Insulting criticism. Complete lies. An over-sensationalised mini-crisis. Steve Bruce’s soundbites had been heavy on emotion in the countdown to this trip to Tottenham, a portrait of a manager determined to fight back after Newcastle’s early-season losses to Arsenal and Norwich. After what must rank among the most satisfying victories of his long managerial career, Bruce could reflect on having done just that.
Newcastle rode their luck in the closing stages, as Spurs belatedly summoned some punch in the final third, notably when Jamaal Lascelles slipped and appeared to impede Harry Kane as he went to ground inside the area. In came VAR and Spurs sensed the reprieve of a penalty.
The technology had saved them at Manchester City last Saturday, preserving a point for them when Gabriel Jesus’s late effort was disallowed, but on this occasion it was not their friend. Pochettino had infamously clashed with the referee, Mike Dean, at Burnley last season and it was easy to imagine his feelings at that point.
Lascelles got away with it, as Newcastle did when Lucas Moura lifted a gilt-edged opportunity high from Moussa Sissoko’s cross. But across the piece Newcastle did enough to merit the result that kickstarted Bruce’s tenure at his hometown club and sparked wild celebrations inside the visiting enclosure.
Joelinton, the £40m signing from Hoffenheim, was the hero, his slick first-half finish proving the difference. He had nothing left in the tank towards the end, like some of his colleagues, but before that he had offered plenty of encouragement with his all-round game.
Bruce tweaked his system, moving to 3-4-3 or, more accurately, 5-4-1, and he was rewarded. After all the criticism, particularly about his tactics, that had to feel good. His players kept Spurs at arm’s length for much of the game, restricting them to precious few clear chances, but equally they flickered when playing through Joelinton on the counterattack.
Spurs felt aggrieved at the denial of the penalty but this was no hard-luck story. Apart from the late push they could not get into their stride. For too long their movement was turgid, their patterns predictable. Where was the creative spark? It was supposed to come from Érik Lamela in the No 10 role but he laboured to find it. Christian Eriksen kicked his heels on the bench until after the hour mark. They simply could not turn possession into penetration.
Joelinton’s hold-up play was easy on the eye, coupled with his balance and awareness of teammates, and he advertised his threat before he scored the goal, ushering in Sean Longstaff after an intelligent run. Longstaff might have crossed but instead he extended Hugo Lloris with a firm shot.
Joelinton’s goal was a case study in simplicity, although it owed much to Davinson Sánchez switching off and failing to notice the Newcastle No 9 stealing yards behind him in the centre. The substitute Christian Atsu floated a ball over Sánchez’s head and Joelinton teed himself up with an assured touch before sweeping low and left-footed past Lloris. Danny Rose could not get across in time to tackle. From a Spurs point of view, as Pochettino admitted, it was a horribly soft concession.
Fabian Schär got away with a clumsy slide challenge on Son Heung-min inside the area and the pickings were slim for Spurs before the interval. Son banged a volley into the ground and watched Martin Dubravka save well when it reared up while Lucas almost capitalised after the Newcastle goalkeeper flapped at a Kane cross.
Pochettino moved Lamela to the left at the start of the second half and Lucas into the centre, where he is far more comfortable, and it came to feel like an attack-versus-defence training-ground drill. Spurs had to force the issue but the burden was heavy. Newcastle merely held their defensive lines.
Spurs cried out for some tempo, some creativity, and there was a roar from the home support when Pochettino sent on Eriksen – together with Giovani Lo Celso. Kyle Walker-Peters had felt a muscle twang and, in the reshuffle, Sissoko went to right-back.
Still Spurs struggled to prise apart Newcastle, who had gone close to a second on 61 minutes only for Joelinton to put insufficient power on a volley from another Atsu cross. Newcastle defended stoutly – witness Schär’s saving challenge on Lamela early in the second-half – but also with a degree of comfort. There were stand-out performances across the Newcastle back-line.
Spurs hinted at a grandstand finish when Kane was denied the penalty following Lascelles’s mistake but Newcastle could point to the moment when Sánchez escaped censure following a tangle with the substitute, Yoshinori Muto, which looked from one angle like a last-man foul. At full-time Bruce’s delight knew no bounds.