A football match took place here, and occasionally a fairly engaging one, but once again the story revolves around handball. This game was deep into injury time when Andy Carroll, summoned from the bench to offer a poor Newcastle some semblance of threat, connected with a high ball just inside the Tottenham penalty area. Eric Dier jumped with him at close quarters and Carroll immediately appealed that the ball had struck an arm, although it was spirited upfield and play continued.
Eventually the VAR was deployed and, after a seemingly interminable stoppage designed to determine both the handball and whether Carroll was onside, the referee, Peter Bankes, awarded a penalty via a visit to his pitchside monitor. By the letter of the current law, which makes a mockery of the sport and is causing immeasurable harm, the decision seemed correct; Dier’s trailing arm was partly outstretched.
Callum Wilson converted the spot-kick and Newcastle, who should have conceded many more goals than the first-half Lucas Moura effort that appeared to have defeated them, pulled a point out of the fire.
Steve Bruce’s hopes of repeating the smash and grab Newcastle executed in this fixture last year, a game played at exactly the same stage of the season, appeared to have been dashed within 25 minutes and the only surprise was that he had been allowed to stay hopeful for so long. Spurs had emerged with the kind of fizz and aggression that has not been a consistent feature of their recent endeavours and Moura’s goal was entirely of a piece with their threat during a first half that could have brought far heavier punishment.
Its manner irked Bruce, who had seen Jonjo Shelvey concede possession moments previously when attempting a through ball with the outside of his foot. The manager’s reaction to that missed opportunity was ill-suited to a daytime audience but worse followed straightaway.
Son Heung-min found Harry Kane on the left of the box and, while the captain’s low centre was aimed into exactly the right area, it did not look undefendable. But the ball ran to the far post where Matt Ritchie, the left wing-back, opted to let it run across him. Perhaps Ritchie was aware a stray touch would bring an own goal, or maybe he just did not sense Moura behind his right shoulder; either way, he quickly realised his mistake as the forward nipped in and jabbed a simple finish into the open goal.
Kane’s assist had taken Karl Darlow out of the game, but the Newcastle keeper had been the star performer until then. In the third minute he clawed out a Giovani Lo Celso free-kick and recovered splendidly to block Kane’s rebound. Spurs kept coming and, when Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg executed a dipping delivery from deep, Darlow equalled those heroics with a one-handed save from Kane’s header.
So the opener was no shock, even if it came at a time when Newcastle appeared to have found a degree of cohesion. That disappeared completely in the aftermath and by the interval Spurs could have been home and dry.
Darlow excelled again, fingertipping a Kane curler around the post, and then Son twice left the woodwork trembling. Both strikes came from outside the area, the first thudding against Darlow’s right post and the second landing plum on the face of the crossbar.
Those were, in fairness to Newcastle, not clear chances and could generously be presented as evidence Spurs had their eye in. Eric Dier’s bearings were well off, though, when a corner found him unmarked in between Son’s two efforts and his header trundled wide. Other glimpses of goal came and went; Spurs were almost made to regret it when, with the half’s last action, Newcastle finally worked an opening only to see Shelvey volley Ritchie’s pinpoint delivery narrowly off target.
Bruce had selected Joelinton, perhaps from memory of his unlikely matchwinner last August, and Miguel Almirón for their first top-flight starts of the season but neither offered much incision. The irrepressible Son’s disappearance at half-time, presumably through injury, might have been a tonic but there was little change in the direction of travel. Lucas and Lo Celso both demanded low saves from Darlow, who also clutched a snapshot from Kane on the hour.
Then Darlow, who was perhaps unsighted, sprawled leftwards to turn away Lo Celso’s placed effort. Ritchie’s match finished prematurely after, contesting a diagonal ball with Matt Doherty, he arrived late and appeared to collide painfully with his opponent’s shoulder. Newcastle had shown flickers of added urgency since the break but the gruel was thin, amounting to little more than a serviceable Joelinton delivery that went begging and a painfully wayward drive from Jeff Hendrick.
Carroll was hauled on but still Spurs pressed for a second, Darlow saving an inventive free-kick from the substitute Erik Lamela. All hell broke loose in those final few minutes, resulting in a post-match red card for the Spurs goalkeeping coach Nuno Santos, and the hosts were left wondering, just like the rest of us, how it had come to this.