Sunday 4th April, St. James Park: Kickoff 2:05pm (GMT)
The international fixtures are over, and with it ends the 10 days of relief we have all felt by having a break away from watching our beloved club. A new sense of hope comes with a break like that, especially together with the news of Saint-Maximin & Wilson returning to training, and with that we look ahead to Sunday’s game against Spurs.
But before looking at the positives, it would be daft to ignore the fact that last time out Newcastle were utterly dominated by fellow strugglers Brighton. In what could be an ingenious move - although will more likely be completely ridiculous - Bruce gave the lads 6 days off from training over the 9 available. Being outmanned in every position, to a side who sat one position above us and were seemingly there for the taking given their lack of closing out games in recent times, apparently didn’t require time at the training game.
Perhaps even more damning than the performance itself was Ciaran Clark’s comments to the media ahead of his Republic of Ireland game, where he stated that the team simply weren’t up for it. A game in which all Newcastle fans, many pundits, ex-players and even my other-half, knew was a monumentally huge game in terms of our relegation battle. It’s genuinely baffling to me that after being unbeaten in three, the coaches and players couldn’t get up for the game. But here’s to being overly hopeful that the break has done the trick and the player’s come out raring for this one.
Historically, Newcastle v Tottenham has thrown up some crackers of games. The likes of Keegan’s Toon Army scoring 7 in the 96/97 season, or a couple of Laurent Robert worldies in a 4-0 win in 03/04, or when Rafa’s 10-men relegated Newcastle romped their way to a 5-1 win on the final day of the 15/16 season.
The first encounter of the season was a true Brucey smash and grab. The Magpies snatched a 97th-minute equaliser thanks to a Wilson penalty, awarded after over four minutes of VAR discussions. The incident, which were I not a Newcastle fan I would say was harsh, occurred when Dier jumped for the ball with his back to Carroll who rose above him and headed the ball onto the back of Dier’s arm. Bruce in the post-match conference couldn’t hide his disbelief that a penalty had been given and in fact spoke more passionately against the goal going in for his side than I think he ever has for a decision going our way.
Newcastle were fortunate to walk away with a point on that day. Not only was Wilson’s penalty fortunate to have been given, but it was Newcastle’s first and only shot on target in the entire match. In fact, it was the latest goal in Premier League history to be scored with a side’s first shot on target. But Newcastle’s true hero of the day was Karl Darlow. The Newcastle shot-stopper earned the plaudits in his man-of-the-match performance after facing 23 shots and making 11 fine saves to keep the Magpies in the game.
The Special One
Jose is one of few managers to have always expressed positive feelings towards Newcastle including previously admitting he was himself a “little magpie”. A student to the great Sir Bobby Robson whilst an assistant coach at Barcelona, Mourinho has often publicly stated that Bobby taught him about the passion and pride of a city who eat, breathe and sleep football.
It took Mourinho to become manager of Tottenham however, before he was able to claim a win at the hallowed turf of St. James Park, when Tottenham ran out 3-1 winners last season. Mourinho’s first win in 8 attempts here. In all 20 fixtures up against the Toon Army, Mourinho managed sides have won 11, drawn 4 and lost 5. But whilst Mourinho’s record against those in Black & White is good, his record against Steve Bruce is outstanding, with Mourinho winning 9 and drawing 1 of the 10 times against one another. Fans will be hoping St. James Park on Sunday regains that fortress-like status where Mourinho struggles to get wins.
One of the greatest managers of recent times, Mourinho is in his second season at Spurs, and whilst Tottenham started well, the belief from their fanbase that Mourinho’s famous second season charm could have them vying for the title petered out when injuries began to hit. The side play with Jose’s characteristically disciplined shape and counter-attacking style, with the pace of Son and Bale, together with Kane’s clinicalness, providing Spurs with one of the most potent attacking three.
But Tottenham have been a far cry from the consistency of which Mourinho preaches. The defensive rigidity that was apparent early in the season has dwindled and the over-reliance of the front three means that when they’re not available or clicking, they struggle to break teams down. Interestingly, the sit back and pounce approach of soaking up pressure accustomed to Mourinho’s sides has provided lots of opportunities to lower positioned sides this season, with the likes of Fulham, Southampton and Sheffield United all having 15 shots on goal in games against Spurs.
The international break set the perfect resting period for Newcastle’s physios to get to work rehabilitating our stars. The club confirmed throughout the break that Almiron, Saint-Maximin, and Wilson were all back to full training, however, in Bruce’s press conference he confirmed Sunday may come slightly too early for Wilson to start.
Whilst fans would love to see Almiron, ASM & Wilson back in the line-up together, especially given the side’s average shots per game increases by over five goals when all start, the most important thing is to not rush any back and keep all three healthy for the remainder of the season.
Steve Bruce speaks to the media ahead of #NEWTOT on Sunday.— Newcastle United FC (@NUFC) April 2, 2021
"The break has allowed us to get some players close to match fitness. It's fair to say Saint-Maximin is a bit more advanced than Callum Wilson is." pic.twitter.com/bJnVOUl0xb
Dubravka after keeping a clean sheet for Slovakia in their first game of the break missed the next two following illness, and also welcomed the birth of his first child during the break, but is expected to return to the starting line-up. All others who went away on international duty returned injury and illness free, however, it was confirmed Hayden will miss the rest of the season and Schar remains out with a knee injury.
Tottenham looked to have struggles in the wing-back positions with Davies, Doherty and Reguillon injured during the break, but it appears Reguillon has recovered in time to return. But the biggest news for Spurs is that Heung-Min Son has recovered from his injury and will no doubt be ready to terrorise our back four.
Dubravka; Manquillo; Lascelles; Clark; Dummett; Shelvey; Willock; Almiron; Fraser; Gayle; Saint-Maximin
Lloris; Tanganga; Sanchez; Alderweireld; Reguillon; Hojbjerg; Ndombele; Lo Celso; Bale; Kane; Son
Both sides are incredibly reliant on their main attacking threats and that’s where the game will likely be won or lost. If Wilson is fit enough to warrant a start, or even some game time, it will provide not only a morale boost and focal point for the attack, but provide more of a license for Newcastle to get forward and at Tottenham. Likewise, Son’s return for Tottenham makes them a much more worrying prospect going forward, but their defensive frailties are there for the taking and I wouldn’t be surprised to see both teams with lots of chances and two busy keepers.
An improved performance before heading into the earmarked “winnable game” at Burnley next week is what i’d be happy with given the tough fixtures after, but Newcastle often make Tottenham work and especially after West Brom’s unexpected 5-2 win over Chelsea on Saturday morning, I think there is all the potential in the world for Newcastle to nick a point or three.
Newcastle 2-2 Tottenham.