Poor for most of the game in their 3-1 opening day win at home to Aston Villa and undeniably second-best in their 2-2 draw at Manchester City last week, Spurs’ luck ran out as Joelinton’s first-half strike earned Newcastle their first win of the season.
After Newcastle’s early season losses to Arsenal and Norwich. Newcastle did enough to merit the result that kickstarted Bruce’s tenure at his hometown club and sparked wild celebrations inside the visiting enclosure. Joelinton, the £40m signing from Hoffenheim, was the hero, his slick first-half finish proving the difference. He had nothing left in the tank towards the end, like some of his colleagues, but before that, he had offered plenty of encouragement with his all-round game.
Newcastle rode their luck during the closing stages, as Spurs belatedly summoned a little punch in the final third, none more so than when Jamaal Lascelles slipped and appeared to impede Harry Kane as he went to ground inside the area. In came VAR and Spurs sensed the reprieve of a penalty but on this occasion, the technology was not their friend. Lascelles got away with it, as Newcastle did when Lucas Moura lifted a gilt-edged opportunity over the crossbar from Moussa Sissoko’s cross
Newcastle also kept Spurs at arm’s length for much of the game and, apart from the late push, Mauricio Pochettino’s players could not get into their stride. Bruce can take the credit for how he nullified them in a 3-4-3 system that frequently looked like 5-4-1 but the truth was that Spurs were off-colour.
Bruce worked tirelessly on team shape and his players fought to keep it, to deny space to their opponents and to create the platform to pinch something when they played forward off Joelinton. The centre-forward’s hold-up play was easy on the eye, coupled with his balance and awareness of his teammates, and he had advertised his threat before he made the breakthrough.
It was his smart run, touch and pass inside that gave Sean Longstaff a sighting and, if the midfielder had his time again, he would surely have opted to play an early low cross for Matt Ritchie or the substitute Christian Atsu, both of whom were free in front of goal. Instead, Longstaff took on the shot from what became a tightish angle and Hugo Lloris made a smart tip over the crossbar.
Joelinton’s goal was a case study in simplicity, although it owed much to Davinson Sánchez switching off and failing to notice the Newcastle No 9 stealing yards in behind him in the centre. Atsu floated a ball over Sánchez’s head and Joelinton teed himself up with an assured touch before sweeping low and left-footed past Lloris. Danny Rose could not get across in time to tackle.
Spurs were poor in the first-half; their movement static, their patterns predictable. Lucas and Son Heung-min, who returned from suspension, were lured from the flanks into central areas, which became cluttered. Where was the creative spark? It was supposed to come from Erik Lamela in the No10 role but he laboured to find it. Christian Eriksen kicked his heels on the bench.
Fabian Schär got away with a clumsy slide challenge on Son inside the area and the pickings were slim for Spurs before the interval. Son banged a volley into the ground and watched Martin Dubravka save well when it reared up while Lucas almost capitalised after the Newcastle goalkeeper flapped at a Kane cross and the ball came off Ritchie.
Pochettino moved Lamela to the left at the start of the second-half and Moura into the centre, where he is far more comfortable, and it came to feel like an attack-versus-defence training ground drill. Spurs had to force the issue but the burden was heavy. Newcastle merely held their defensive lines.
Spurs cried out for some tempo, some creativity, and there was a great roar from the home support when Pochettino sent on Eriksen – together with Giovani Lo Celso – just after the hour. Kyle Walker-Peters had felt a muscle twang and, in the reshuffle, Sissoko went to right-back.
Still, Spurs struggled to prise apart Newcastle, who had gone close to a second on 61 minutes only for Joelinton to fail to summon power on a volley from another Atsu cross. Newcastle defended stoutly – witness Schär’s saving challenge on Lamela early in the second-half – but, equally, with a degree of comfort.
Spurs hinted at a grandstand finish when Kane was denied the penalty following Lascelles’s lunge but Newcastle could also point to the moment when Sánchez escaped censure following a tangle with the substitute, Yoshinori Muto, which looked from one angle like a last-man foul. At full-time, Bruce’s delight knew no bounds.