Life in the Premier League was always going to be hard for Newcastle United. Newly promoted and unable to improve the squad as much as manager Rafael Benitez would like, an opening game against a team like Tottenham called for unity, togetherness and maybe some common sense too.
For 47 minutes at St James Park, Newcastle had it right. They were nothing special but then they were never likely to be. This remains essentially a Championship team and against last season’s Premier League runners-up, it was always going to be a case of muddling through on day one.
But, yes, they just about had it right for a while. They were not that ambitious. They sat deep and played on the counter. In the opening 45 minutes, they restricted Tottenham to pretty much one decent chance. At half-time, Benitez would not have been disappointed.
Ben Davies strikes to add Tottenham’s second goal of the game and seal victory for his side at St James’ Park
The defender was mobbed by his team-mates while Newcastle players lay around dejected after defeat was all but confirmed
Dele Alli slides in to volley the ball past Newcastle goalkeeper Rob Elliot and opening the scoring at St James’ Park
The England international left Elliot helpless and watched on as he scored Tottenham’s first goal of the 2017-18 campaign
Alli lets out a scream of celebration after breaking the deadlock as team-mate Harry Kane joins in on the action
In football, though, things can change. Games can turn on the back of great skill, a piece of luck or a mistake. They can also turn on the moments of madness and that is what happened here.
There had been no spite in this game at all for the best part of 50 minutes. Harry Kane had been booked for a lunge in to Florian Lejeune. It looked bad but the Tottenham striker was trying at least to win the ball.
Jonjo Shelvey, however, wasn’t going for the ball when he trod on Dele Alli shortly after half-time. The ball was actually nowhere near either player at the time. But, seemingly irked by Alli’s previous refusal to give it to him during a break in play, Shelvey almost casually walked over his opponent’s ankle as he prepared to restart the game.
MATCH FACTS, PREMIER LEAGUE TABLE & PLAYER RATINGS
NEWCASTLE: Cec Elliot; Dummett (Lascelles 7), Clark, Lejeune (Mbemba 34), Manquillo; Hayden, Shelvey, Atsu, Perez; Ritchie, Gayle (Merino 76)
SUBS NOT USED: Ja Murphy, Aarons, Darlow, Mitrovic
SENT OFF: Shelvey 47
MANAGER: Rafa Benitez
TOTTENHAM: Sch Lloris; Davies, Vertonghen, Alderweireld, Walker-Peters; Dembele (Winks 90), Dier, Sissoko (Son Heung Min 58); Eriksen, Alli (Wanyama 82), Kane
SUBS NOT USED: Janssen, Vorm, Wimmer, Carter-Vickers
MANAGER: Mauricio Pochettino
GOALS: Alli, Davies
BOOKED: Kane, Davies
REFEREE: Andre Marriner
MAN OF THE MATCH: Kyle Walker-Peters
Season at glance
There was no stamp, no particular downwards pressure, and Alli recovered enough to score his team’s opening goal. Shelvey looked stunned when referee Andre Marriner produced the red card.
But did the 25-year-old do it on purpose? It is impossible to construct an argument that he did not. Whether he intended to really injure Alli is beside the point. It was a red card offence and one that pretty much decided the game.
On TV, Graeme Souness, no stranger to colourful moments, said Shelvey had gone ‘from captain to clown in ten minutes’. On Twitter, former Newcastle captain Alan Shearer called Shelvey ‘pathetic’.
In football, condemnation arrives quickly and without much mercy these days but Shelvey is an experienced player. He will have known the gravity of his sin by the time he even reached the dressing room where, we are led to believe, he later apologised to his team-mates before hurrying home.
Christian Eriksen, who played a sublime through-ball assist to Alli, jumps in on the celebratory huddle following the goal
Moments earlier Jonjo Shelvey was issued a bizarre straight red card after appearing to purposely tread on the ankle of Alli
Alli was on the floor when Shelvey approached him to take the ball, before standing on his ankle when Alli wouldn’t comply
Alli immediately reacted to the situation and his Spurs team-mates around him immediately began to appeal to the ref
Jamaal Lascelles tells shoves Harry Kane away from Shelvey as the England striker takes offence to his actions
The Newcastle captain had to make the long walk down the tunnel, leaving his team to play out the tie with one man down
Certainly Shelvey had left his team adrift. Tottenham are a club with their own issues but they have a fundamentally gifted group of players and they were far too strong for a depleted Newcastle team for the remainder of the afternoon.
Newcastle had already lost two players to injury during the first half. Paul Dummett suffered a hamstring pull and then Lejeune departed in the wake of Kane’s challenge in the 34th minute.
So in the wake of Shelvey’s dismissal, Tottenham faced a team that twice had reorganised its defence and then lost its captain and best midfielder. Against that background, it was a miracle they only scored twice.
The first goal arrived not long after the red card. Newcastle goalkeeper Rob Elliot had saved well from Kane just five minutes after Shelvey walked but had no chance when Christian Eriksen landed a deep cross on Alli’s left foot six yards out.
Alli’s finish spoke of great natural technique. Connecting on the volley and on the stretch, it required a softness of touch and that was what it got. The ball was directed back across Elliot and, after an unbroken 90 seconds of possession, Tottenham had a lead they were never going to give up.
Youngster Kyle Walker-Peters made his debut for Spurs and looked to have given away a penalty after fouling Dwight Gayle
But referee Andre Marriner dismissed the claims and ruled offside in favour of Tottenham, sparing Walker-Peters’ blushes
The debutant then went on to have a mightily impressive first game for Spurs and picked up Man of the Match accolade
Harry Kane shapes up to unleash an effort on goal, which rasped the post from long range in the latter stages
The striker takes a moment to reflect after missing a promising opportunity to open his goal scoring account
Tottenham didn’t go on to submerge Newcastle. It wasn’t that kind of performance. But Mauricio Pochettino’s team controlled the game perfectly by refusing to waste possession and Newcastle did not have a hint of an opportunity at the other end until their opponents had doubled their lead.
This time the scorer was an unlikely one, left-back Ben Davies. The Wales international had scored just once in the league before yesterday but he showed great intelligence and determination in the 70th minute to follow his own early pass in to the Newcastle penalty area and shoot right-footed under Elliot when the ball broke to him 12 yards out.
St James’ Park, so full of life before kick-off, now felt as though somebody had thrown a blanket over it. Reality had bitten hard and only a shot from Christian Atsu in to the side netting with ten minutes left even hinted at a comeback.
There was still time for Kane to strike a post at the death. The England striker is rarely prolific in August and this would have been a good way to change that.
As it was, Tottenham didn’t need his goals on this occasion. Here in the north-east, Shelvey did much of their hard work for them.
Spanish manager Rafa Benitez gesticulates after a decision is not given in favour of his side, as the home fans watch on
Newcastle players huddle together for the first team talk of the campaign and their return to top flight English football