FOR a methodical manager who prefers to have a gameplan for every single match, Alan Pardew had his own ideas of how to prevent Gareth Bale from stopping Newcastle United’s recent resurgence.
With Jonas Gutierrez expected to double up with full-back Mathieu Debuchy and the midfield five dropping closer to the back four than normal, space for Bale to exploit was supposed to be at a minimum.
And in restricting Tottenham and one of the world’s best wingers to long shots for the majority of the afternoon, it had looked as if Newcastle would succeed at White Hart Lane.
What let the Magpies down was the fact Tottenham’s Welsh wonder capitalised on the errors that were made by illustrating why the likes of Real Madrid have already identified him as a summer transfer target.
But enough about Spurs’ wonderful, powerful and extremely dangerous two-goal match-winner. In failing to keep Bale’s name off the scoresheet, Newcastle are still very much too close for comfort to the Premier League’s bottom.
Despite heading in to the trip to north London on the back of successive victories for the first time this season, there will now still be a great need for three points to arrive when domestic duty returns to St James’ Park on February 23, for the visit of Southampton.
Such a scenario is frustrating for Pardew and his players, having shown signs of claiming something from a team with strong intentions to remain in the Champions League places come May.
“I felt we could have won it,” said defender Steven Taylor.
“We had the momentum and they had their fans on their backs.
“We seemed to have a buzz in our play and we believed we would get another goal, like we did against Chelsea the week before. At the back I think we had them rattled a bit, so we pushed on in the hope of getting another goal.”
The resilience Newcastle showed against a Tottenham team full of attacking talent offered further evidence the team spirit is strong even after so many new French imports last month.
There was a poor start by Newcastle. Skipper Fabricio Coloccini’s poor judgement conceded a free-kick for a foul on Clint Dempsey and Bale hit the opener. And what an opener.
Bale picked his spot from 22 yards by arrowing a brilliant dead ball up and over the wall before it bounced and beat goalkeeper Tim Krul to his left inside five minutes.
At that stage Tottenham ran Newcastle ragged. Fullbacks Debuchy and Davide Santon wondered what had hit them in the shape of Bale and Aaron Lennon.
But from the moment Papiss Cisse directed a free header wide from Coloccini’s delivery, Newcastle frustrated Tottenham, who had become restricted to long shots.
A back five – including internationals from Holland, France, Argentina, Italy as well as academy graduate Taylor – understood each other and were able to keep the interchanging players in white shirts at bay.
Taylor said: “French is good in our dressing room, Dutch is good, Italian is good, Spanish is good too ... it’s all good. I have been trying to learn French, I have got the CDs in the car. They will need a Geordie tape because there would be a difference between English and Geordie!
“We have had injuries, suspensions and it has probably affected us this season because we had a very small squad. These new lads have increased the competition for places and the gaffer has made it very clear that if you don’t perform, you don’t get in the team.”
When Debuchy’s pass to compatriot Moussa Sissoko down the line created the space for him to roll in to the path of another man from across the English Channel, Yoan Gouffran, the equaliser soon followed.
Gouffran – later stretchered off and taken for an x-ray following a tackle by Walker – took a touch to control the pass before watching his shot deflect off Michael Dawson and fly in to the net in the 24th minute.
After that Newcastle made life more and more difficult, even if they rarely troubled goalkeeper Hugo Lloris. Just when it seemed they would earn a point at least, Tottenham found an extra gear.
The introduction of Emmanuel Adebayor lifted Spurs and when Clint Dempsey’s long ball dropped towards the Togo striker, Pardew could not have been prepared for what was to follow.
Both Adebayor and his marker, Taylor, missed the bouncing ball. Coloccini reacted slowly and Bale pounced, knocking the ball away from the defender and in to the space in front of him.
With just Krul to beat, the former Southampton winger – who used to be at St Mary’s when Pardew was in charge – slotted between the Dutchman’s legs and inside his near post with 13 minutes left.
Taylor said: “We could see by their body language that they were frustrated, but then Gareth Bale’s momentum has taken him through and he’s got the winner.
“To me, Gareth Bale is a world beater. He is a complete player, he is just like Cristiano Ronaldo because when he is coming at you, you have to be on your toes all of the time.
Yet we are all disappointed because but for his two goals we felt we could have won the game.”
Bale could have gone on to score four. An unusual missed volley at the back post and a fine low save from Krul kept the scoreline more realistic.
But enough damage had been done. Newcastle have noticeably improved in recent weeks, it will be hoped the return of Europa League football to Tyneside does not mark the start of another slump.
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