FINALLY, something to be positive about. Not quite a win, five minutes of defensive madness towards the end of the first half put pay to that, but both a performance and result that have strengthened Newcastle United’s hopes of avoiding the drop. After one of the darkest periods of Steve Bruce’s St James’ Park tenure, there is finally some light at the end of the tunnel.

It didn’t look that way at around six o’clock yesterday, when Aleksandar Mitrovic’s goal for Fulham dropped Newcastle into the bottom three for the first time all season. However, by the time Aston Villa responded with three goals of their own to condemn the Cottagers to a damaging defeat, the Magpies were three points clear of the relegation zone with a game in hand. Such are the fineness of the margins in the battle to remain in the top-flight.

Bruce needed a response after his side’s Brighton battering, and thanks in part to a change in formation and personnel that was long overdue, he got one. Newcastle’s collective commitment was evident in the emotional celebrations sparked by Joe Willock’s deserved 85th-minute equaliser, but it was the change in the home side’s attacking intent that was most welcome. So often insipid in the final third, the Magpies had 22 efforts at goal as they went toe-to-toe with a Spurs side that closed to within two points of the Champions League places.

Despite the absence of leading scorer Callum Wilson, and the limited involvement of Allan Saint-Maximin, who was restricted to a 20-minute cameo as he returned from injury, Newcastle proved they are capable of carrying a goalscoring threat. Joelinton scored and missed a golden opportunity in the second half, Dwight Gayle forced two excellent saves from Hugo Lloris, Jacob Murphy and Sean Longstaff both went close with long-range efforts and Willock claimed his second goal since signing from Arsenal to salvage a point.

True, a Harry Kane masterclass almost resulted in Newcastle losing anyway, with the Spurs striker scoring twice and hitting the post moments before Willock equalised, but Tottenham’s defenders never looked comfortable dealing with their opponents’ attacks. There haven’t been too many visitors to St James’ Park who have found themselves in that position this season.

Newcastle broke the deadlock in the 28th minute, and merited the advantage that was secured through Joelinton’s second league goal of the campaign.

Having abandoned the ‘false nine’ formation he had blindly stuck to for more than a month, Bruce was immediately able to see the benefits of playing players in their preferred positions. Gayle clearly enjoyed being back as a central striker, while Joelinton also looked much more effective alongside him than when stationed out on the flank.

With both Matt Ritchie and Murphy delivering balls into the box from their respective wing-back positions, Tottenham’s defence creaked at regular intervals.

Joelinton threatened after just three minutes, forcing Lloris into a routine save, and Gayle wasted two excellent opportunities to break the deadlock midway through the first half.

Jonjo Shelvey picked him out with a fine floated cross, but Gayle’s header was directed too close to Lloris, who was able to save. The rebound fell invitingly for Gayle on the edge of the six-yard box, but while he should really have scored, he failed to properly connect with his prodded effort and Lloris was able to make a second crucial stop.

The Spurs goalkeeper was beaten nine minutes later though, with his defenders’ struggles to play out from the back to blame. Japhet Tanganga made a mess of an attempted clearance, enabling Ritchie to win possession and find Sean Longstaff. The recalled midfielder picked out an unmarked Joelinton with a square ball across the area, and for once, Newcastle’s record signing kept his composure to stroke home a simple first-time finish.

Ahead for the first time since February’s draw with Wolves, the Magpies desperately needed to keep things to enable them to build on their advantage. Instead, they switched off to allow Spurs to equalise within 26 seconds of the restart.

Paul Dummett failed to close down his opponent, enabling Giovani Lo Celso to cross from the right. Emil Krafth should have cut out the midfielder’s delivery, but instead the Swedish defender seemed to get his legs in a tangle as he failed to clear. The loose ball fell invitingly for Kane, and the England skipper hardly needed a second invitation as he hammered home from close range.

Affording Kane so much space in the 18-yard box was a cardinal error from a Newcastle perspective. Four minutes later, however, and they were doing exactly the same thing again as Tottenham claimed the lead.

Tanguy Ndombele was the architect of Spurs’ second goal, spotting Kane in space on the right of the box and threading a pass between Dummett and Ritchie to pick him out. There was still plenty to do when Kane received possession, but after taking one touch to bring the ball under control, he used his second to dispatch a superb low shot across Martin Dubravka and into the bottom corner.

The goal took Kane ahead of Mo Salah in the Premier League’s goalscoring charts, and provided yet more evidence of his clinical ineffectiveness in the 18-yard box. If England are to succeed at this summer’s European Championships, their captain will surely be crucial.

Newcastle would kill to have a striker with anything like Kane’s conversion rate in the penalty area but, instead, they were fielding two forwards in Joelinton and Gayle who boasted just two league goals all season between them at kick-off. Nevertheless, the Magpies were more creative and threatening than in the vast majority of their games this term, and continued to attack in numbers even though they found themselves trailing for most of the second half.

Longstaff fired over shortly after the interval, but Joelinton spurned an excellent chance for an equaliser with 20 minutes left. The Brazilian did superbly to control Krafth’s cross at the back post, but having done the hard part, he rolled a wasteful shot wide of the target.

Newcastle would have been two behind at that stage had Miguel Almiron not been in the right place to nod Japhet Tanganga’s goal-bound header off the line, and with the game flowing freely from one end to the other, Kane came within an inch or two of wrapping things up with five minutes left.

A swift counter-attack took the visitors from one end of the field to the other after a Newcastle corner broke down, but while Kane was eyeing a hat-trick when Lo Celso played him into the right of the box, his low shot struck the base of the left-hand post.

It proved a crucial moment, as within less a minute, the Magpies were celebrating their equaliser. Ritchie swung a cross to the back post, where Joelinton was able to nod the ball back across goal. Almiron’s attempt at a header was blocked by Sergio Reguilon, but the ball dropped invitingly for Willock, and the Arsenal loanee lashed gleefully into the roof of the net.