Tottenham Hotspur’s winning run of four games was ended at St James’ Park by a late strike from Newcastle United substitute Shola Ameobi, ensuring the honours ended even. The result means Newcastle stay fourth in the Premier League on 16 points with Spurs’ three points behind in sixth, still with a game in hand.
Spurs’ manger Harry Redknapp made one change to the starting line-up that beat Arsenal, with Jake Livermore coming in to replace striker Jermain Defoe. Redknapp did however make several positional changes. Gareth Bale was switched to the right of midfield, perhaps with a mind to keep the Magpies main creative threat, Jonas Gutierrez, pushed back. Rafael van der Vaart was restored to a central position, playing off of Emmanuel Adebayor, whilst Luka Modric was moved to left midfield.
Arguably, Redknapp was taking a gamble in the selection. Both Adebayor and van der Vaart had been rated doubtful for the match with hamstring problems and Ledley King was set to play his fifth game in a row, a feat he had not managed since the 2008-09 season. King adds composure and organization to the back four and when he plays the Spurs’ defence is a tougher proposition. Maybe the manager believed the international break had allowed enough time for recovery after the North London derby.
The tactics paid off in that Gutierrez was kept quiet for the first 30 minutes, however both Bale and Modric seemed uncomfortable in their positions. With Scott Parker and Jake Livermore battling it out in the centre of the park with Cheik Tiote and Yohan Cabaye both teams were cancelling each other out. The main threat was coming from the set pieces of Ryan Taylor, dealt with by Younes Kaboul and King. However, in the 30th minute, the unfortunate King went down with an abductor muscle pull, to be replaced by Sebastien Bassong, while Modric and Bale switching wings.
A restrained first-half was broken eight minutes later when Livermore pinched the ball from Cabaye, pushing it to Adebayor, who was tripped by Steven Taylor as he went driving into the area. The resultant penalty dispatched by van der Vaart.
The second-half started in a different gear altogether. Gutierrez brushed off a weak challenge by Modric, skimmed Walker to send over a cross for the unmarked Demba Ba to put into the net.
The game opened up with both teams making chances when in the 61st minute Defoe came on for the Dutchman van der Vaart. Defoe soon collected a ball from Parker and shot on the turn past Tim Krul to put Spurs into the lead.
Both sides created chances after that with Newcastle pushing for an equalizer and Spurs looking dangerous on the break until in the 86th minute Ameobi fired a fearsome strike past Brad Friedel to level. In a frenzied finale both sides could have won, with Defoe denied by a great save by Krul.
In the end, with both sides creating 13 chances [both six on target] a draw was a fair result. However, Defoe looked sharp and lively and may have made the difference playing from the start. This perhaps highlights the selection headache for Redknapp.
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