Everyone breathe. Tottenham Hotspur faced Newcastle at Wembley Stadium on Wednesday night knowing that with a win and any dropped points by Chelsea in their match against Huddersfield would send them to the Champions League for the third consecutive season.
And that’s exactly what happened. Tottenham got a goal from Harry Kane five minutes into the second half and held off a flurry of Toon attacks, gutting out a 1-0 win. Meanwhile, Chelsea drew 1-1 with Huddersfield, meaning Tottenham are guaranteed to finish no lower than fourth place and can end the season in third with another win on Sunday against Leicester.
Tottenham began the match as many suspected and others dreaded: with Moussa Sissoko in the starting lineup. The absence of Eric Dier, Mousa Dembele, and Harry Winks meant that the Frenchman slotted into the center of midfield against his old club. Toby Alderweireld, who started in the weekend loss to West Brom, returned to the bench as Davinson Sanchez started alongside Jan Vertonghen. Kieran Trippier and Ben Davies were the wingbacks; Dele Alli, Son Heung-Min, and Christian Eriksen started behind Harry Kane.
Tottenham started the first half with a sense of urgency, hoping to nab an early goal and take some of the pressure off. Unfortunately, they found that Newcastle had the same sense of urgency, despite having nothing to play for.
Harry Kane got the first shot for Spurs in the sixth minute. In a move that looked very pre-injury-Kaneish, Harry put a ball on target off of a quick turn in the box, but it was palmed wide by Toon keeper Martin Dubravka. It also wouldn’t have counted anyway, as the offside flag was up, but it as a nice way to start.
Spurs had another good chance in the tenth minute after Victor Wanyama earned a free kick just outside of the penalty area. Christian Eriksen’s free kick was a good one, but Dubravka got a hand on it and and managed to tip it over the bar.
Newcastle tried to ram the ball straight down Tottenham’s throat, running straight at Spurs’ defense and trying to catch the center backs unaware. That led to some dangerous chances and a few set pieces as well. Jonjo Shelvey had one of the best of the half after his free kick rattled Tottenham’s post in the 15th minute.
Jamaal Lascelles forced an outstanding save from Lloris at the half-hour mark; his header off of a corner kick looked destined for the top corner but Hugo made a diving save to keep them out. Two minutes later Dwight Gayle had another chance for Toon via a set piece header, but he mistimed his jump and thankfully fired over the bar.
Spurs tried to nick a surprise goal from, of all people, Jan Vertonghen ten minutes before the half but his 25-yard blast was straight at Dubravka.
Harry Kane had a frustrating half — he put a volleyed shot wide of the target off of a long pass from Christian Eriksen, and after a wild end-to-end sequence just before time found himself one-on-one with the Newcastle keeper, but he bobbled the shot and Dubrakva gratefully collected.
It’s fair to say that Newcastle looked like the better side in the opening 45. Halftime resulted in a chorus of boos at Wembley as Spurs went to the changing room with no score.
As per usual, Tottenham started the second half without any major substitutions, and they didn’t need any to get the match’s only goal. Five minutes into the second half, the goal came from who else but Harry Kane, who played a give-and-go with Son Heung-Min at the top of the box. Kane one-touched an easy ball past Dubravka to put the Spurs faithful at Wembley into raptures.
That may have been the only goal of the match, but both teams created a fair amount of havoc. Jan Vertonghen loped forward into the attacking third in the 52nd minute, sliding a dangerous ball across the face of goal. Soon after, Kane did the same, firing a low shot wide of the far post after a long pass out of the back from Kieran Trippier.
Credit to Newcastle who continued to pile pressure on Spurs’ defense and came close a number of times over the course of the second half. Much of their directness came through Dwight Gayle, Ayoze Perez, and especially former Tottenham player DeAndre Yedlin, who had a very good match.
Yedlin created one of Newcastle’s best opportunities to equalize in the 59th minute -- he fired a ball from wide right that made its way across the box and eventually landed with an unmarked Perez. Somehow Perez couldn’t poke the ball past a sliding Lloris, who scrambled it out for a corner kick.
Kenedy had another golden opportunity for Toon a few minutes later, but dragged his low ball wide of the post.
Spurs had another chance midway through the half courtesy of Dele Alli, who was quietly excellent throughout the match. A cutback pass from Sissoko found Dele unmarked at the top of the area, but his low shot was well saved from Dubravka.
Spurs remarkably didn’t make a substitution until the 76th minute, when Son Heung-Min made way for Erik Lamela. Erik immediately went into barking terrier press mode, and was fantastic at keeping the ball and breaking up play.
Newcastle substitute Jacob Murphy looked bright in his brief appearance, shooting wide with his first touch and looking dangerous with runs into the box.
Spurs eventually subbed off Kieran Trippier, who was attended to by the physios twice in a few minutes. He was eventually subbed off for Toby Alderweireld after being scythed down by Mohamed Diame.
The final moments consisted of frantic action as Spurs played a low block to hold off Newcastle and essentially ceded possession to Toon. Newcastle tried hard but really couldn’t get anything more than half-chances while Spurs moved into time-wasting mode. Danny Rose eventually came on for Victor Wanyama, who looked like he picked up a knock, and Rose spent the rest of the match in central midfield with Sissoko.
Danny also had the best chance in the added time, after Lamela fed him on a diagonal run. Dubravka managed to slide in and nick the ball off of his feet.
Hearts were in Spurs supporter throats and a huge roar emerged twice — once when the Chelsea score was announced and once more when Neil Swarbrick blew for time. Tottenham escaped with a 1-0 win and more importantly secured Champions League football in the new stadium!
- These won’t be as detailed as they usually are as this is a midweek match so I couldn’t watch as closely. I’ll do a closer re-watch tonight.
- Vertonghen doesn’t look like he’s fully recovered from his ankle. He was a lot less ambitious out of the back and looked a half step off the pace while trying to deal with the directness of Dwight Gayle.
- The midfield of Wanyama and Sissoko... didn’t work. Poor passing, little effective press, shuttling the ball wide frequently to Trippier and Davies who could do little but fire crosses into a packed box. The first half was crying for someone with trickery and speed... like Lucas.
- Harry Kane sure looked broken for much of this match but that was a well struck goal.
- I think this was as nervous as I’ve been for a Premier League match since Spurs broke the losing streak at Old Trafford a few years back.
- This was NOT a vintage win by any means and there are numerous ways to criticize Spurs’ continued anemic play, but let’s not worry about that. Now is a time for celebration, because for once, Spurs didn’t godd—mn bottle the season away.