The Champions' League: who wants it? Not Newcastle on the basis of this performance. A point would have lifted Sir Bobby Robson's men into fourth place and the last qualifying spot for next season's competition. Instead, this defeat, thanks to Andy O'Brien's late own goal, leaves them fighting it out with Charlton for that vital position. The Magpies' next game now takes on massive importance, and as luck would have it they host none other than the Addicks on Saturday. "A cliffhanger," Sir Bobby called it.
The cry had gone up from Newcastle that draws were harming their push for the Champions' League having managed seven on the trot away from home. What Robson's men would have done for a point here at White Hart Lane, but they scarcely deserved one given the way they surrendered the initiative, especially in the second half.
For Tottenham this marked a change in their recent form too, markedly in the goals-against column as they recorded their first clean sheet in nine games and first victory in three. However, the days of the goal glut - 28 in their five previous games - appear over, for the time being at least.
David Pleat was not convinced either that Newcastle will end up in the Champions' League next year. He said: "Fourth place is wide open for a lot of teams." As for his own team, Tottenham's caretaker manager was delighted with the way they defended, given they had shipped 13 goals in their last five games. "I take pleasure in clean sheets, especially when you win," he said, before adding: "We got bodies in the way and defended terrifically against the wiliness of [Alan] Shearer and speed of [Craig] Bellamy."
Tottenham did not have to defend their lead for long as O'Brien's piece of bad luck came four minutes from time. Stéphane Dalmat was on as a substitute but he made all the difference when he crossed low from the right and O'Brien's attempt to intercept saw the ball fly past Shay Given.
Robson did not take defeat kindly, saying: "I'm bitterly disappointed to lose. We didn't deserve to lose, we were the better side. As for fourth place, it's a dogfight."
Tottenham started the brighter with Christian Ziege making Given pluck the ball out from under his crossbar with a curling 25-yard free-kick after three minutes. Newcastle finally sprang into life with 25 minutes gone. Jermaine Jenas tried his luck from the edge of the area and when his shot was blocked, Olivier Bernard shot from further out only for Kasey Keller to keep the ball out with his legs.
Newcastle went straight back down Spurs' left flank in their next attack. The full-back Aaron Hughes ran into the area and his opposite number Mauricio Taricco made contact with legs and not the ball. The referee refused a penalty, although replays suggested the Argentinian had fouled Hughes. "A nonsense," Robson said. "It was a stonewall penalty and I was blunt but fair to the ref at half-time." Robson also felt his men should have had another penalty just before half-time, when Anthony Gardner tangled with Bellamy, but he realised some failings lay with his own side. "We didn't score and that cost us a point. It's a blow for us and it's a cruel game."
Goal: O'Brien og (86) 1-0.
Tottenham Hotspur (4-3-1-2): Keller 4; Taricco 5, Doherty 4, Gardner 5, Carr 5; Brown 5, King 5, Ziege 6 (Dalmat, 81); Keane 5; Kanouté 5 (Redknapp 5, 70), Defoe 5. Substitutes not used: Hirschfeld (gk), Postiga, Kelly.
Newcastle United (4-4-2): Given 5; Bernard 5, O'Brien 5, Woodgate 6, Hughes 6 (Ameobi, 89); Bowyer 5 (Ambrose, 76), Jenas 6, Speed 5, Robert 4; Shearer 4, Bellamy 5. Substitutes not used: Harper (gk), Elliott, Viana.
Referee: H Webb (South Yorks) 7.
Man of the match: Taricco.
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