Newcastle United 1, Tottenham Hotspur 2
SHOULD Terry Venables decide to accept the offer to become Newcastle United’s manager he should not under-estimate the size of the task that awaits him after yet another meek surrender made it four successive defeats for the Magpies.
Venables was at home last night pondering Mike Ashley’s SOS call. And if he was watching on television, as you would expect given the decision he has to make today, he will know that, while the money will be good he will certainly have to earn it.
Newcastle are a team on the slide and, on present form, they look like relegation candidates. There are some good players in their midst and some big characters to boot, but they desperately need some guidance and leadership. Whatever your thoughts about yet another Cockney taking up a position of authority at St James’s Park, Venables has the sort of experience and knowledge needed to haul them out of a very dark and very deep hole.
Desperate times call for desperate measures and Venables is out of work, he has taken temporary positions before and he is, more importantly, a pretty good manager.
Although Newcastle – who were watched by just over 20,000 fans, their lowest home attendance in 16 years – more than held their own against Spurs in a woeful first half, they fell apart in the second against a team which has also had its fair share of troubles on the pitch this season.
Having almost taken the lead themselves straight after the restart when Damien Duff had a shot cleared off the line, the Magpies could not cope with Tottenham as a squad, fragile in terms of numbers and confidence, predictably exited the one cup competition they could realistically expect to win this season.
The first half, to not put too finer point on it, was dreadful. In fact it would, out of kindness to those who had to sit through it once already, be best to ignore it completely.
Newcastle were poor, but Tottenham were even worse and while the Magpies at least had the excuse of playing for a club without a manager and in turmoil in the boardroom, Spurs do not have such a get-out clause.
The North London side are the only thing between Newcastle and the bottom of the Premier League, but their expensively assembled squad is not playing well.
Neither side have got much confidence and neither played with any sort of fluency as result. There was effort, but little actual endeavour as passing moves broke down with mistake after mistake.
As a result, both goalkeepers were able to relax for long spells, Tottenham’s Heurelho Gomes did have to pluck one decent strike from Charles N’Zogbia out of the air, but it was straight at the Brazilian.
United’s next sight of goal came to Claudio Caçapa, but the defender – playing in midfield because of the injury problems which have decimated a small squad – could not guide his header on target from Geremi’s corner.
Tottenham have got plenty of different options in their considerably larger first-team squad, but did little better. Their expensive Russian striker Roman Pavlyuchenko might have done better with a header from another corner, but the former Spartak Moscow front man put it wide.
The visitor’s best moment came from Aaron Lennon. The winger has lost his way since suggesting he could become an international star at the World Cup with England in 2006, but his pace still makes him a potent force out wide.
He also has quick feet and when he managed to turn on the edge of the area under pressure from Sebastien Bassong, his curling shot almost crept inside the far post with Shay Given scrambling across his goal.
Thankfully things improved dramatically after the break as if both teams suddenly realised this was a cup tie worth winning.
Newcastle almost took the lead just three minutes after the restart when a delightful flick from Martins found the run of Duff.
The Irishman did well to hold off a defender, but having guided the ball past Gomes, former United defender Jonathan Woodgate galloped back to hook the ball as it rolled towards the net. That brought a response from Spurs, Gareth Bale firing weekly wide after a mistake by Fabricio Coloccini while a dangerous run and shot from Lennon was gathered at the second attempt by Given. Tottenham were looking increasingly dangerous and Pavlyuchenko almost turned in substitute’s Giovani’s cross before putting his side in front with his head after he peeled away from Coloccini
That crushed Newcastle and when Steven Taylor made as horrendous error, caught in possession by Jamie O’Hara on the edge of his own area, it was game over as the midfielder cooly beat Given.
Owen grabbed a late consolation in the final minute after Gomes had denied Martins at the end of a jinking run to set up a frantic final few seconds, but Newcastle did not have the means to mount a comeback.