As half-time beckoned, the dawn of Newcastle’s controversial new Saudi Arabian-led era and the sight of Tottenham’s Harry Kane scoring a rather good goal faded into insignificance.
Nuno Espírito Santo’s side were preparing to take a corner when a spectator collapsed in the East Stand and the abiding memory of a strange, unsettling afternoon on Gallowgate will be images of Sergio Reguilón and Eric Dier abandoning their positions to alert the referee to the emergency unfolding behind them.
Dier raced to the technical area, demanding a defibrillator, and his quick thinking merits praise. As Paul Catterson, Newcastle’s club doctor, ran across the pitch with the requested equipment, the seriousness of the situation sank in and an eerie hush descended, erasing the earlier, almost delirious, excitement as home fans welcomed the club’s outrageously rich new Saudi owners.
As the spectator received emergency treatment, Andre Marriner led the players off the pitch for 20 minutes. When the welcome news emerged that the fan was stable and en route to the nearby Royal Victoria Infirmary, where he was recovering on Sunday night, the game resumed. But the afternoon’s earlier joy and optimism had vanished.
Yasir Al-Rumayyan, the governor of Newcastle’s majority owners, had flown in from Riyadh for the occasion. He looked quite emotional as, minutes before kick-off, almost the entire stadium turned to the directors’ box and offered him a standing ovation. The atmosphere was so electric it could probably have generated sufficient power to keep the lights on across north-east England all winter.
Suitably energised, in the second minute Callum Wilson stole in front of Cristian Romero and headed Newcastle straight into the lead, a goal that crowned a gorgeously flowing move involving a clever, short pass by Allan Saint-Maximin to the overlapping Javier Manquillo as Nuno acquired the expression of a man fearing yet another painful post-match inquest.
At that point Spurs seemed a good half yard off the pace and looked in peril of being swept away by a tidal wave of black and white emotion. With the excitement almost palpable whenever Saint-Maximin touched the ball and the Frenchman’s teammates passing and moving across the width of the pitch in a manner rarely seen in recent months, Steve Bruce might even have fantasised that this would not be his last match in charge after all.
Then reality intruded. This Newcastle XI are not good enough to keep zipping passes slickly along the ground for 45 minutes, let alone 90, and sure enough they lost concentration momentarily. It was sufficient to permit an unmarked Tanguy Ndombele the necessary space and time to collect Reguilón’s delivery and place an exquisite shot beyond Karl Darlow.
Kane then remembered that form is merely temporary and that class remains permanent. As Pierre-Emile Højbjerg unleashed a through pass, England’s centre-forward checked his run just sufficiently to remain onside before flicking the ball past the advancing Darlow. Although Kane’s goal, his first in the Premier League this season, was initially disallowed for a marginal offside, it was rightly reinstated following a VAR review.
Where Al-Rumayyan and his fellow director Amanda Staveley had earlier been jumping for joy they now stared, deadpan, at the ground. Concern was soon writ large on their faces after Reguilón, Dier and co flagged up that medical emergency and an unsettling hiatus ensued.
Once it was over and a round of applause for the medics had faded, the ground felt strangely quiet. No one seemed to know quite how to react, or even if they still wanted to watch a football match.
With Newcastle struggling to regain momentum, Spurs assumed near total control, something emphasised when a quick-footed Lucas Moura caught Isaac Hayden cold before finding Kane lurking in the penalty area. Unselfishly, Kane played a low pass across the six yard box for Son Heung-min to redirect the ball beyond Darlow.
Some two-goal cushions are more comfortable than others and, for all Tottenham’s sudden, initially unlikely dominance, for all their monopolisation of possession, they remained wary of Saint-Maximin’s shoulder-dropping ability to change the narrative.
Yet even Saint-Maximin cannot win games single-handed, and as the clocked ticked down, the ground echoed to chants of “We want Bruce out”. By the time Jonjo Shelvey, a second-half substitute, had been sent off for a second yellow card offence – a ludicrously ill-disciplined and self-destructive trip on Reguilón 20 yards out – Bruce, “celebrating” his 1,000th game in management, must have wished Newcastle’s owners had sacked him last week as originally planned.
Dier’s late own goal, as he comedically headed Jacob Murphy’s free-kick past a startled Hugo Lloris, afforded no consolation; Newcastle made Spurs look much better than they really are and, without a win all season, seem in serious trouble. Al‑Rumayyan has some big decisions to make.