Steve Bruce must have felt a familiar shudder of apprehension as Harry Kane walked past him in the tunnel before kick-off. Newcastle’s manager has long subscribed to the theory that “team’s are only as good as their strikers” and, in Kane, Tottenham possess a world-class centre-forward.
Not for the first time, the England forward delighted in demonstrating precisely why he is so widely coveted with a consummate all-round performance capped by two goals scored in the space of four first-half minutes.
For once, though, his contribution was not enough to lighten José Mourinho’s mood. Some kamikaze defending apart, Newcastle played in the much-improved manner of a side who appear to have reached a truce with Bruce, whom several players had expected to be sacked at the start of the international break.
This newfound resolve was rewarded with a point secured courtesy of Joe Willock’s 85th minute equaliser – a goal that could yet have a significant bearing on both the race to avoid relegation and Champions League qualification.
It kept Newcastle three points clear of Fulham, after they lost at Aston Villa, and that leveller also meant Mourinho had to settle for a rise to fifth place as his somewhat iffy record at St James’ Park continued. A man mentored by Sir Bobby Robson has won only once in nine visits to the ground where Robson always told him he should one day take charge.
Considering Bruce and Mourinho are in competition for an unwanted coronation as the Premier League’s least popular boss such a scenario is not quite beyond the bound of possibility. Indeed the technical area duel seemed something of an inverted beauty contest and the warmth with which the pair hugged at the final whistle perhaps reflected shared frustrations.
In a perhaps forlorn attempt to alter hostile perceptions on Tyneside, not to mention tease a positive performance from his players, Bruce made five alterations to the side dismantled 3-0 at Brighton a fortnight ago, with Willock among those initially jettisoned.
There was also an abandonment of the recently installed 4-3-1-2 as Newcastle reverted to the three at the back, wing-back propelled configuration beloved of Rafael Benítez. It facilitated a first start for Matt Ritchie since the left wing-back called Bruce a “coward” in a training-ground altercation.
While Ritchie impressed, the similarly recalled Dwight Gayle missed two early sitters in swift succession. First he connected with Jonjo Shelvey’s lofted cross but his header was a little underpowered and Hugo Lloris was able to parry. The rebound fell conveniently to his feet and a goal beckoned but, instead, Lloris smothered the shot.
Newcastle though looked a different side back in their default formation and, with Davinson Sánchez enduring a few wobbly defensive moments, Bruce’s players briefly took control, assuming the lead when an unmarked Joelinton met Sean Longstaff’s low centre and swept an assured 10-yard shot beyond the visiting goalkeeper. Significantly it arrived at the end of a move initiated when Ritchie dispossessed Pierre-Emile Højbjerg.
Barely two minutes late Giovani Lo Celso slid a dangerous ball across the box. Martin Dubravka looked to have it covered but Emil Krafth ill-advisedly attempted to clear only to miss the ball and block his goalkeepers’s sightline. Amid the “after you” confusion the ball ricocheted to Kane, who promptly lashed it into the net.
It was not long before he scored again. This time Tanguy Ndombele’s through ball bisected Newcastle’s backline and picked out a just onside Kane on the right of the area.
All that remained was for the game’s outstanding individual to take a steadying touch before directing a perfectly calibrated angled shot beyond Dubravka’s grasp. Kane struck his 162nd Premier League goal so hard, and at such pace, that it was virtually unstoppable.
Aside from scoring, Mourinho’s No 10 provoked increasing self-doubt between the home lines as he regularly manoeuvred himself into gaps between defensive partners with glorious ease but at least Bruce could take consolation from the reality that Spurs harboured their own vulnerabilities at the back.
Indeed only an impressive late sliding interception from Joe Rodon came between Gayle and a goal after Jacob Murphy’s low ball from the right confounded Sanchez and friends.
Arguably an even more vital defensive intervention subsequently came from the unlikely figure of Miguel Almirón who used his forehead to clear off the line and deny Tanganga a headed goal after Dubravka punched Lo Celso’s in-swinging corner. The Slovakia goalkeeper looked mightily relieved as Kane dragged a shot on to the outside of a post but the cavalry were riding to Newcastle’s rescue.
Willock and a newly fit Allan Saint-Maximin had been liberated from the bench and, when the latter’s dribble left Mourinho’s rearguard in disarray, Ritchie curled in a cross, Joelinton nodded across goal and Almirón’s header was half-cleared into Willock’s path.
“The manager told me to run around and score a goal,” reported the Arsenal loanee after slamming the ball beyond Lloris from six yards. “So I did as I was told.”