Tottenham Hotspur 2 Newcastle United 0: Injury crisis exposes Newcastle's long-term failings

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The Independent Online

If it were not for Michael Owen suffering a broken bone this match would fade quickly from the memory. Tottenham Hotspur were ordinary, Newcastle United abject. But after decades of monumental under-achievement by both clubs, especially Newcastle, should anyone have expected anything less?

What is remarkable is the lure these once grand clubs still carry. The away end, for a New Years' Eve fixture that entailed a 600-mile round trip, was full. Demand for tickets elsewhere at White Hart Lane was keen enough to have touts lining the High Road.

Spurs, admittedly, show signs of a long-overdue revival. Into the business half of the season they remain ahead of Arsenal and hold a Champions' League placing. Their first top-six finish since 1990, when Paul Gascoigne and Gary Lineker were in harness, beckons.

The future looks bright, for the squad are young and full of promise. Yet Martin Jol is rightly not getting carried away. His team had lost badly at the Hawthorns only two days before and were only fitful on Saturday.

"We have a stronger team than last year, with Edgar Davids, and we have more points than this time last year (37 to 29), but all my young players must play like experienced players, otherwise we have a problem," the Dutchman noted.

What Graeme Souness would give for such minor concerns. He woke to the news that Malcolm Macdonald, still a Toon legend, had delivered a withering critique of his team in the Newcastle Chronicle and the day grew worse and worse. Even before Owen's injury Newcastle, despite the unceasing effort of Scott Parker, were never in the game. Their defence has the ghoulish fascination of a car crash, the midfield lacks creativity and the attack was utterly reliant on the crippled Owen.

Both goals followed lamentable defending. Teemu Tainio drove in the first, taking advantage of Titus Bramble's sloppiness in allowing Peter Ramage to jump with Mido, and in failing to deal with the Egyptian's flick-on.

Amdy Faye, Bramble and Celestine Babayaro were all culpable for the second, eventually and fortuitously volleyed in by Mido from Robbie Keane's cross.

Had Mido been less selfish Keane could have turned defeat into a rout. From Newcastle's only clear-cut chance Shola Ameobi, unbelievably, volleyed over from six yards.

Owen may well spend part of his recuperation studying the get-out clauses in his contract.

"We didn't really have a sniff of a goal," admitted Alan Shearer. He added, with some understatement: "It's not going well at the moment." Somehow, one suspects, he will not be talked out of retiring again.

"I will be delighted to see the back of 2005," said Souness, whose despair was deepened by a hand injury to his goalkeeper Shay Given, one of the side's few reliable performers.

"All I want for 2006 is to get my players fit," he added, "but you have to take the knocks when they come along, and it is how you deal with it that counts. I've had plenty of great times, maybe more than my fair share, but I have also had some bad times. I am still enjoying my football, but I've not enjoyed it when you lose."

Souness will shoulder much of the blame and, while he has been unfortunate with injuries, some of his signings (Jean-Alain Boumsong, Babayaro, Faye and Albert Luque) have been poor. But the real fault lies in the boardroom with the myopic decision-making of the highly paid management duo of Freddy Shepherd and Douglas Hall.

Sir Bobby Robson, you may remember, was sacked because fifth place (following fourth and third), and a run to the Uefa Cup semi-finals, was not good enough. His reign is already looking like a golden era.

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