If a footballer wanted a definition of a pyrrhic victory, this was it. Newcastle achieved their eighth successive Premiership win at St James' Park but at the cost of virtually their entire midfield.
By half-time they had lost Gary Speed, Kieron Dyer and Nolberto Solano, all of whom sustained injuries serious enough to put their participation in the New Year's Day fixture with Liverpool in doubt. Speed is due to undergo a hernia operation which will keep him out for six weeks, Dyer faces a scan on a calf injury, while Solano, who suffered a horrific crack of heads with Mauricio Taricco, spent the night in hospital, concussed.
"This has come at a very high price," reflected their manager, Sir Bobby Robson. "But imagine what the mood would have been like had they lost?"
It was cheap compared to the price nearly paid by Christian Ziege, who might in other circumstances have lost his leg, but it will weigh down on a side which has already lost Hugo Viana, Speed's natural replacement, for the next two months following a shoulder operation.
"We can't replace him," Robson said of Speed, when asked if he might use next month's transfer window to bolster his midfield. "How do you get an experienced player like him with a great left foot, a good head and a footballing education? It's going to be a strain on our resources but last season we went to White Hart Lane and won 3-1 with a midfield of Jamie McClen, Aaron Hughes and Clarence Acuña and we might have to do the same."
Robson thought the enforced changes actually helped his team. Hitherto, Newcastle had been storming forward in cavalry charges while Tottenham somehow displayed a brand of neat, passing football on a Christmas pudding of a pitch. Speed's emphatic finish five minutes before he was forced off had given them a lead but Tottenham had enjoyed the bulk of possession, betrayed only by their inability to supply a telling final ball to Robbie Keane.
Shifting Hughes into the gap vacated by Dyer gave Newcastle, in Robson's words, "a more solid base". It was inevitable that Alan Shearer would shoulder the additional burden, dropping deeper to keep Spurs at bay. Yet it was less predictable that the 19-year-old Jermaine Jenas would show a mature touch in his thin legs to stamp his authority on a wonderfully entertaining and temperamental game which saw Taricco clear one Shearer shot off the line while another from Lomana LuaLua slammed against the post.
Just as it appeared Newcastle would patch themselves up and try to hold on to their lead, they went further ahead as Craig Bellamy, taking advantage of a quick throw, delivered a cross that found Shearer at the far post. The rage that burned into the faces of Glenn Hoddle and his assistant, John Gorman, as his header crashed into the net would have been triggered by the sight of Shearer's supposed marker, Ledley King, standing aimlessly on the six-yard line watching the ball as it drifted over his head.
It was not exactly King's afternoon. In the first half he had attempted a back-header to Kasey Keller and sent the ball straight to Bellamy's feet. His shot was perhaps a yard wide.
It was almost not Nikos Dabizas's day either. The Greek defender had come on for his first game in nearly a month, injured himself in a tackle, limped off and then, immediately on his return, headed Teddy Sheringham's cross past his own goalkeeper. There were then 17 minutes remaining and Dabizas's relief on hearing the final whistle would have been intense.
Goals: Speed (17) 1-0; Shearer (58) 2-0; Dabizas og (73) 2-1.
Newcastle United (4-4-2): Given 6; Hughes 7, O'Brien 7, Caldwell 5, Bernard 6; Solano 6 (Dabizas 5, h-t), Dyer 5 (LuaLua 6, h-t) Speed 6 (Jenas 8, 23), Robert 5; Bellamy 6, Shearer 8. Substitutes not used: Ameobi, Harper (gk).
Tottenham Hotspur (4-5-1): Keller 6; Carr 7, King 3, Perry 8, Tauricco 6; Poyet 4 (Sheringham 5, 68), Freund 5, Davies 5, Bunjevcevic 5; Iversen 5 (Ferdinand 5, 68), Keane 5 (Acimovic, 79). Substitutes not used: Thatcher, Sullivan (gk).
Referee: S Bennett (Orpington) 4.
Bookings: Newcastle: Dabizas. Tottenham: Perry, Freund.
Man of the match: Jenas.
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