NEWCASTLE: So much has changed at Newcastle United in the last 10 days, but much remains the same.
While hope has returned to Tyneside — heart strings pulled, fires rekindled, new owners, new vision and renewed passion — the situation on the pitch remains the same.
A first-half three goal show from Tanguy Ndombele, Harry Kane and Son Heung-min was enough to cancel out a Callum Wilson opener and deflate the Magpies’ takeover party. A late Eric Dier own goal reduced the arrears, but United’s fate was sealed as they continued their poor start to the season — they are now nine games without a win in 2021/22, have conceded the most goals in the Premier League and sit second bottom of the table.
Injuries have hamstrung United in the opening months of the campaign, and at least Steve Bruce, handed an unexpected reprieve to manage his 1,000th game as a professional coach, could boost his beleaguered side with the return of frontman Wilson and skipper Jamaal Lascelles.
Spurs are light-years ahead of United in terms of quality, and it would take a monumental effort from the crowd to lift Newcastle from their early season malaise.
But with positivity flooding down from the terraces at a packed St James’ Park, the Magpies did take the lead — much to the delight of the new owners in the directors box.
As Javier Manquillo clipped on to the head of Wilson, who netted his third in four top flight games this season, PCP Capital Partners’ Mehrdad Ghodoussi straddled a row seats high in the Milburn Stand to embrace wife Amanda Staveley and PIF’s Yasir Al-Rumayyan, the new non-executive chairman of the club.
It was a sight so many had waited so long for, after two years of legal deal wrangling and nearly 15 years of turmoil under previous owner Mike Ashley. It was not to last, however.
Nuno Espirito Santo’s Spurs were in no mood, and were soon level as Ndombele, free in acres of space on the edge of the Gallowgate box, guided past Karl Darlow in the United goal, leaving him rooted to the spot.
If the first could not pop the atmosphere, the second did.
A searching ball by Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg saw Kane break the offside trap — after a very close VAR check — and guide over the advancing Darlow.
Spirit unwavered, Newcastle looked for a leveller, and Allan Saint-Maximin came within a whisker of making it 2-2. Joelinton’s through ball set goalscorer Wilson free, but this time, looking to turn provider, he passed inches beyond the frenchman’s reach.
In truth, this was as good as it got for United as Spurs began to open up gaps across their backline.
A Son corner picked out Lucas Moura, who beat Lascelles in the air and nodded off the crossbar.
It was another warning Bruce’s men did not heed, and soon, they paid for it as Kane, previously without a goal or assist for his club this season, laid the ball on a plate from right to left, leaving partner-in-crime Son with the easiest of finishes.
A flowing encounter had a lengthy juncture just before half-time when a medical emergency in the East Stand saw a Newcastle fan stretchered out of the ground, stabilized by medical staff including club doctor Paul Catterson.
But for the speedy work of Spurs’ Dier and Sergio Reguilon, who called for Andre Marriner to halt proceedings and get a defibrillator across to treat the supporter in need, the outcome may have been much worse.
The second half, much like the end of the first, became formulaic, with waves of Spurs attacks rarely punctuated with United possession.
Ndombele, buoyed from his goal, whipped one over Darlow’s upright as the North London club looked to put the final nail in United’s coffin.
The hosts, down to 10 men when substitute Jonjo Shelvey picked up a second booking, rarely looked like turning things around, as their possession statistics dropped to 15 percent for long periods of the final stages.
If new owners did not know the scale of the task facing them, they no doubt do now. With the eyes of the world on them, United produced a joyous atmosphere off the pitch, but little spark on it.
The first major decision of the new regime, deciding Bruce’s future, hangs like a cloud over the club — and time must be running out for the 60-year-old.
Fans made their feelings clear. “We want Brucey out” chants became more prevalent as theme slipped away. After Shelvey’s red, they became raucous.
A huge banner unfurled by fan group Wor Flags pre-kick-off read: “‘Cause this is a mighty town, built upon a solid ground — and everything they’ve tried so hard to kill, we will rebuild.”
These words, uttered by old-time Geordie actor and crooner Jimmy Nail in the famous local song “Big River,” ring truer now than they did pre-game.
Newcastle is a mighty town, built on solid ground — a supporter base the envy of the footballing world. However, a rebuild is what is needed — the damage may prove tough to shake, short-term.