NEWCASTLE UPON TYNE, ENGLAND - AUGUST 18: Aaron Lennon of Tottenham Hotspur reacts during the Barclays Premier League match between Newcastle United and Tottenham Hotspur at Sports Direct Arena on August 18, 2012 in Newcastle upon Tyne, England. (Photo by Chris Brunskill/Getty Images)
Today marked Andre Villas-Boas' first match in charge of Tottenham Hotspur. His squad lined up about how many of expected. The only unforeseen inclusion was William Gallas as partner to Younes Kaboul in central defense. Newcastle Manager Alan Pardew was without captain Fabricio Coloccini, but again, the lineup did not deviate too much from what many expected.
Spurs looked to be the better side early in the match, winning two corners in the first few minutes. Tottenham had 5 corner kicks in the match, but as usual were unable to find a goal from them. Spurs had their first tangible chance in the 11th minute, but Gylfi Sigurdsson was ruled offside following a break led by Aaron Lennon and Sandro.
Referee Martin Atkinson made some tough decisions early, handing out three cards in the first 20 minutes. Two of which went to Spurs' two holding midfielders. Things started to look brighter for the Magpies in the 21st minute. Demba Ba hit a shot from about 30 yards that then took a deflection off of teammate Papiss Cisse. Tottenham goalkeeper Brad Friedel was wrong-footed by the deflection, but the ball trickled just wide.
After that scare it was all Spurs. Defoe hit the post in the 32nd minute and Siggurdson just overran the rebound. Later Gareth Bale saw his header clang off the bar following a cross from Lennon. Defoe again popped up near the top of the area, but fired over in the 40th minute. Newcastle threatened a bit in the closing minutes, but the game went into the half tied.
The Magpies made a formation change at halftime and it seemed to work to great effect. With Cisse now playing as the lone striker and Ba shunted out to the left Newcastle were able to control possession better in the midfield with Yohan Cabaye, Chiekh Tiote, and Jonas Gutierrez all playing centrally. It didn't even take ten minutes for the changes to produce a goal.
Demba Ba hit a brilliant curling effort after Kyle Walker failed to adequately clear Danny Simpson's cross. Walker complained that he was pushed, but there was still not much anyone could have done to stop Ba. It was not overly poor defending from the Englishman, but his clearance should have been better. No goalkeeper could have saved Ba's shot and suddenly NEwcastle looked good value for a victory.
Some off the pitch excitement started in the 57th minute as Alan Pardew was stent to the stands for shoving the assistant referee while arguing about whether the ball had crossed into touch. Surely there will be further discipline coming down for the Newcastle manager, possibly another game or two away from the touchline.
Tottenham continued to try to push and prod for an equalizer, but could not get a breakthrough. Benoit Assou-Ekotto saw his long range effort beaten away by Newcastle keeper Tim Krul. LAter, Defoe almost beat Krul following a breakaway by Kyle Walker and later fired over.BAE shot right at Krul, pushed away.
Finally, Defoe was rewarded for his hard work throughout the match as he scored in the 76th minute. Defoe was first to Lennon's cross. His header deflected off of Davide Santon's face and forced a save by Krul. The Dutch keeper, however, was able only to push the ball away and Defoe was first to the rebound and slamed it home to equalize for Spurs.
It did not, however, take long for Newcastle to equalize. Following a corner Hatem Ben Arfa found himself marked by Aaron Lennon and Rafael van der Vaart near the edge of the area. The Frenchman pushed the ball between his two Tottenham markers and one of them (or both) bungled Ben Arfa to the ground inside the area. On the penalty, Brad Friedel guessed the wrong way and Ben Arfa scored easily. The late addition of Harry Kane did little to threaten as Newcastle continued to maintain possession. Tottenham were unable to do much in the final ten minutes and slumped to an opening defeat.
For the games possession was pretty much 50-50 and Tottenham did have considerably more shots than their opponents, but as in years past the inability to finish hurt Tottenham in this match. The game was not without bright spots though. Aaron Lennon looked dangerous and Defoe worked hard. Gylfi Sigurdsson looked good in his debut making several key interceptions and passes.
This is still a Tottenham Hotspur team that needs a striker, plain and simple. As well as Defoe played today, his finishing is not up to snuff. It would also be nice to see Jan Vertonghen in the team. I'm really not sure why he didn't play today over Gallas.