Spurs start strongly but kick off their campaign with defeat at Newcastle
Premier League: Newcastle 2 Tottenham 1
Andre Villas-Boas’ reign at Tottenham began with a defeat as Spurs were beaten in their Premier League opener at Newcastle.
With plenty of work still to do in the transfer window, the Lilywhites initially defied the holes in their squad and were the better side in the first half.
Indeed, they were unfortunate not to take an advantage into the break as Jermain Defoe and Gareth Bale hit the woodwork in the space of four minutes.
But it was Newcastle who took the lead after the interval through Demba Ba and, although Jermain Defoe equalised, Hatem Ben Arfa converted a decisive penalty to secure all three points for the Magpies.
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The big surprise in the Tottenham line-up was the absence of summer signing Jan Vertonghen, who started his Spurs career on the bench as Villas-Boas opted for William Gallas, who also captained the side the day after his 35th birthday.
The Lilywhites kicked off in the 4-2-3-1 system which had been employed throughout pre-season, with Gyfli Sigurdsson in his favoured position behind the lone striker, Defoe, following his �8million move from Hoffenheim.
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It was Spurs who had the first sight of goal in the seventh minute as Benoit Assou-Ekotto’s dangerous clearance across his penalty box fortunately sent Aaron Lennon away on the far side.
He freed Sigurdsson, who went through on goal but saw his effort blocked by the onrushing Tim Krul, and the linesman’s flag – which was raised incorrectly - would have ruled the goal out for offside anyway.
Tottenham’s hearts were in their mouths midway through the half as a low shot from Ba hit his strike partner Papiss Cisse, wrong-footed Brad Friedel and trickled narrowly wide of goal. However, that proved to be a rare chance for the hosts, who struggled to find a way through a well-organised and relentlessly energetic Spurs midfield.
The visitors’ success came at a cost as Jake Livermore and Olympic silver medallist Sandro both picked up yellow cards – but Newcastle’s Danny Simpson was also lucky to avoid a second booking in the 25th minute as he struggled to contain Gareth Bale.
Spurs certainly did not look like a side who were missing their star playmaker, the outgoing Luka Modric, and a proper target man.
And, having succeeded in shackling their hosts, the Lilywhites went close to getting the breakthrough before the interval, hitting the woodwork twice in four minutes.
Defoe hit the post and saw the ball rebound agonisingly away from the incoming Sigurdsson in front of the gaping net – and Lennon then jinked to the by-line and crossed to the far post, where Bale headed against the bar.
Spurs picked up where they had left off after the interval, with Bale and Lennon switching flanks and continuing to concern the Newcastle rearguard.
Lennon nearly found Defoe with a low cross from the left and Sigurdsson’s skill then freed Bale, who hared down the right but was unable to deliver a killer ball and ran the ball out of play.
However, it was Newcastle who took the lead in the 55th minute. An intricate passing move ended in a cross from Simpson and Walker failed to get any distance on his header, allowing Ba to control the loose ball in the box and curl it brilliantly around Friedel.
Spurs attempted to hit back, with Sigurdsson curling the ball wide of goal and Assou-Ekotto forcing a save from Krul with a 30-yard effort - and Newcastle boss Alan Pardew was sent to the stands for pushing a linesman as the temperature rose inside St James’ Park.
Lennon got in behind the Magpies’ back line to gather substitute Rafael van der Vaart’s ball over the top, but he was unable to get his shot off as Simpson nicked the ball away – and Defoe was then denied by Krul at his near post.
Spurs finally got the goal they deserved with 15 minutes left as Lennon crossed for Defoe, who saw his header saved by Krul and rebound off the post, but the England striker was well placed to force the ball over the line.
The parity only lasted for three and a half minutes though as Hatem Ben Arfa squeezed between Lennon and Van der Vaart into the box and was brought down by the Spurs duo, winning a penalty and converting it himself to give Newcastle the lead with 10 minutes left.
Villas-Boas responded by introducing his only available other striker as 19-year-old Harry Kane came on to make his first ever Premier League appearance, but the visitors were unable to fashion a telling chance in the final exchanges.
Tottenham: Friedel, Walker, Kaboul, Gallas, Assou-Ekotto, Livermore, Sandro (Kane 86), Lennon, Sigurdsson (Van der Vaart 68), Bale, Defoe
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