ENGLISH PREMIER LEAGUE
LONDON • Familiarity can so often be wonderfully reassuring but, for Newcastle United, it all too frequently provokes depression.
There was to be no exception to this general Geordie rule yesterday when the sight of owner Mike Ashley with his arms folded in the directors' box simply served as a reminder of how the club's owner has let manager Rafael Benitez down in the football transfer market this summer.
As if that was not sufficient, a moment of mindless, all too typically self-destructive, stupidity from Jonjo Shelvey - namely stepping on Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Dele Alli's ankle in front of the referee - at the start of the second half saw Benitez's side reduced to 10 men.
Goals from Alli and Ben Davies enabled Tottenham to undo Newcastle's defensive organisation and secure a 2-0 Premier League win at St James' Park.
While a season of potential struggle beckons for Benitez, Mauricio Pochettino's Tottenham players - though dominant yesterday - will also need to up their respective games if another title challenge is to be mounted.
In one sense the first half went reasonably well for Newcastle. Rob Elliot's goal was barely threatened, winger Christian Atsu's pace periodically troubled the young Tottenham debutant Kyle Walker-Peters, and striker Dwight Gayle looked lively.
Pochettino's mounting frustration seemed highlighted when he ordered Moussa Sissoko and Christian Eriksen to swap flanks.
But all that good work was undone by Shelvey's sending off early in the second half.
When Alli, down on the turf after a challenge, pushed the ball away as Shelvey attempted to retrieve it, the Newcastle midfielder responded by stepping down hard on Alli's ankle, directly in front of Andre Marriner, who wasted no time in reaching for his red card.
Benitez later agreed that Shelvey deserved his red card. "The sending off changed everything," said the Spaniard. "He made a mistake. Hopefully he will learn from it. He has apologised but that changes nothing now."
Alli made light of Shelvey's petulant reaction.
"I'm sure he'll be disappointed," he told Sky Sports. "It was important we stayed professional. I've been pulled up for my temper before but today we had to keep our cool. There was no need to react."
Few were surprised when Newcastle fell behind in the 61st minute. Alli had endured an uncharacteristically ineffective day but he issued a belated reminder of his talent by registering the opener.
It arrived at the end of a hallmark Tottenham passing move, concluding with Harry Kane picking out Eriksen, whose cross was met by Alli's left foot and a stretching finish far too good for Elliot after the scorer had darted between Jamaal Lascelles and Chancel Mbemba.
If Alli's run had been timed to perfection, so too, was that of Davies as the left back turned up in the box to supply Tottenham's second goal in the 70th minute.
His low shot from 10 metres out followed first-time passes from Kane and Alli and Eriksen's deception by shaping to shoot himself.
Time remained for Kane to hit a post before having a goal disallowed for offside. His moment will surely come - but Newcastle's horizon looks somewhat cloudier.
"I don't know," said Benitez when he was asked if he would meet Ashley to seek reinforcements. "I am concentrating on my job and my players.
"It was difficult from the beginning. We had to adapt (after injuries)."
THE GUARDIAN, REUTERS