Mauricio Pochettino admitted he was a relieved man after witnessing his Tottenham side beat Newcastle 2-1 in their Premier League opener at St. James’ Park.
Spurs came into the match having become not only the first Premier club not to sign a single player in the summer transfer window since it was introduced in 2003, but also the only side in Europe’s top five leagues to not splash any cash during the break.
Mauricio Pochettino went so far as to blame the lack of transfer activity on Brexit. But while the sheer folly of the UK’s leaving of the European Union may take years to be fully revealed, in football it only takes owners and fans 90 minutes to declare the coach an idiot and give him his marching orders.
The Argentine was never going to have his ability questioned after just this match. But there were plenty of questions over how Spurs would cope without any new additions, and in terms of setting the scene and tone for the new campaign the importance of the clash could not be overstated. The binary nature of top-flight football means defeat would have doubtless been put down to the transfer timidity and prompted yet even more heated debate.
But goals from Jan Vertonghen and Deli Alli in the first 18 minutes settled the visitors nerves and were enough for Spurs to get the three points. And the coach was a happy man after the final whistle.
“I am so proud of the performance in the circumstances,” Pochettino told Sky Sports. “Newcastle are a very good team and they had some chances to score more than one, but sometimes in football you need some luck as well as effort.”
Alli heads home what proved to be the winner at St James' Park.
On top of the absence of any new signings, Pochettino also had to cope with the side’s returning World Cup stars. Harry Kane, Vertonghen and Alli, just three of the team’s players who had a busy summer in Russia.
“With all of the circumstances, we prepared for the game with a lot of players that only started training on Monday,” the coach said. “We can do better, and be more consistent but it was a massive challenge to connect everything and prepare in the few days we had. I am not going to complain. It is a massive challenge to work together again.”
The visitors took an eighth-minute lead when Christian Eriksen’s corner was headed toward goal by Davinson Sanchez, allowing Vertonghen head the ball over the line before Martin Dubravka in the Newcastle goal was able to claw the ball back.
Newcastle were level within three minutes when Sanchez and Vertonghen were caught ball-watching as Matt Ritchie sent over an inviting cross from the right which Joselu headed into the bottom corner of the net past an exposed Hugo Lloris.
With momentum on their side and a full-house roaring them on, Rafael Benitez’s side looked set to take the game to Spurs. But thanks to more questionable defending, their parity lasted just seven minutes.
Harry Kane only returned to training on Monday and looked off the pace against Newcastle.
Tottenham’s second goal resulted from the hosts allowing Alli a free run at the far post to send a precise header back across Dubravka into the far corner from Serge Aurier’s inviting cross, which was whipped in from the right.
The second half was open and it was a shock that neither side added to the scoreline as both keepers excelled.
For Benitez, also frustrated by the lack of activity in the transfer market, it was a case of what might have been.
“We deserved more. The team worked hard. We conceded and reacted well, and then showed good fight,” the Newcastle coach said.