ALL the talk before Newcastle United’s return to Premier League action centred on Rafael Benitez’s wish for more new players. By the time the final whistle had blown on the opening game defeat to Tottenham, the frustrations from manager and fans alike were more focused on those he has now lost.
Supporters would probably have been able to stomach losing to Spurs on the opening weekend ordinarily; this time they had someone to blame.
Having already lost two defenders, Paul Dummett and then Florian Lejeune to injury in the opening 45 minutes, the last thing Benitez needed was for a key midfielder to stupidly get himself sent off.
That’s exactly wat Jonjo Shelvey did a couple of minutes into the second half with the scoreline still goalless. There was a sense there and then that all of the hard work Newcastle had put in up to that point had gone to waste in one ridiculous moment.
Shelvey now faces a three-match ban for stamping, however softly, on Tottenham midfielder Dele Alli as he lie on the floor claiming a free-kick.
Alli struck the opening goal 12 minutes later to put Spurs on track for victory.
And with 20 minutes remaining Tottenham full-back Ben Davies made the game safe by adding a second, although that effectively happened when Shelvey had a rush of blood to the head when there was absolutely no need for his actions.
Now Benitez looks certain to be without the former Swansea man and his two injured defenders for a number of weeks, so he will hope the club’s owner Mike Ashley – who looked on from the directors’ box – can help on the numbers front before the trip to Huddersfield on Sunday.
Newcastle performed reasonably well against Tottenham, close season buys Christian Atsu and Javier Manquillo were two of the game’s brighter players.
But if Benitez – clearly short of full-backs and a striker capable of shining on the Premier League stage – doesn’t get the players he seeks then the challenge of just staying up this season will be as hard as he has outlined to the boardroom.
Despite a lower number of signings than he would have liked, Benitez has a desire to enjoy the return to the big stage and his players’ performances clearly reflected that.
While Tottenham, as expected, even if they are yet to add a single new recruit to Mauricio Pochettino’s squad, enjoyed the bulk of the possession, they were still restricted in what they could do in the final third.
From back to front, the black and white shirts worked hard to track the visitors’ movement and that prevented them from seriously testing goalkeeper Rob Elliot. He didn’t have to make a meaningful save until the second half.
There were moments of concern, like when Harry Kane’s head didn’t connect properly with Christian Eriksen’s right-wing free-kick and the ball fell kindly into the arms of Elliot.
Eriksen had the other best two opportunities of the opening period for Tottenham too and both were from distance. He poked the first effort from 18 yards just the wrong side of the far post, while a second was routine catch for Elliot low to his right.
Newcastle’s favourite ball was up to Dwight Gayle, who shrugged off a hamstring problem to take his place in attack. Last season’s top scorer actually had the best chance of the half, but he volleyed wide after Ayoze Perez’s lovely through pass early on.
Newcastle’s most effective outlet was Atsu. The Ghana winger constantly looked to attack his marker, Kyle Walker-Peters, and he often got the better of him to send in a delivery or two.
Despite the decent crosses, Newcastle struggled to get the bodies into the box in time to keep up and the Tottenham backline regularly mopped up. When they didn’t, Hugo Lloris was on hand to gather comfortably.
To have got to the break still level, despite losing the two defenders through injury and the enforced shuffling around, will have encouraged Benitez more than his Tottenham counterpart.
But for Newcastle, who only named the most expensive summer buy Jacob Murphy on the bench, to really spring an opening weekend surprise they needed to come up with a way to create more – and then Shelvey effectively put an end to any hope of that happening.
It was completely unnecessary for him to plant his left boot into the right ankle of Alli as the playmaker lay on the floor angry not to have been awarded a foul. The action left referee Andre Marriner with no option but to issue the red.
From the moment Atsu had brought a save out of Lloris seconds later, the afternoon became about ten-man Newcastle trying to keep Tottenham at bay.
Chances were created more regularly, and Elliot made an instinctive point blank save to turn away a Kane volley to lift his team-mates and encourage them to keep plugging away in the hope of avoiding defeat.
But Tottenham got the breakthrough on the hour. Eriksen’s precise pass behind the defence was perfectly weighted for Alli to arrive unmarked and slide in at the back post to finish beyond Elliot.
After that it was a case of Newcastle having to prevent more from going in. Ten minutes later, though, the second arrived when Tottenham’s movement carved the home side open.
Mousa Dembele, Alli, Kane and Eriksen linked up well before the latter’s charge into the box saw the ball roll nicely into the path of Davies to cushion a low shot beyond Elliot.
Despite withdrawing lone striker Gayle after that and introducing midfielder Mikel Merino, Newcastle still probed now and again. Atsu made a couple of darting runs and he drilled a low effort into Lloris’ arms. He also had another effort hit the side-netting.