After Newcastle helped stabilised the French economy, helping them to avoid recession and brimming with confidence after over-turning Chelsea last week, it would prove inevitable that the Newcastle of today looked a good 100 miles or two above the Newcastle of a month ago. Pre-match nerves? Not immensely. I'd generally accepted that Newcastle would grind out a draw, we'd look at this as an opportunity missed and sweat whilst watching Chelsea and Arsenal both play in their respective games.
Contrary to what was stated by others, but I was happy to see AVB rotating the squad. It's almost a double ended sword with what I'd read from some. I was convinced some had genuinely been convinced we'd lost the game at 12:30. It was concluded last season that one of our downfalls was the lack of squad rotation. We moaned. We cried. We pointed the finger at Redknapp. We put it down to "exhaustion" and looked upon last year as a season of "what if's" and "if only's".
After an international break, squad rotation is the long-term answer. Today it got us over the line. 99 minutes played. Caulker and Dawson looked, overall, solid - despite some minor defensive errors. Hopefully the players will feel the benefit when game 34+ hits us like a train and we feel more fresh for it. It could come down to the difference between scoring in the final minute of the final game and grabbing a top 4 place or conceding and, again, reflecting on what could've been. It was almost tiring watch us "see-out" the end to the season last year. The players had already packed their bags and itching for that first flight away, some didn't return to Spurs. Parker, especially, looked as though he needed crutches come the final weeks of last season.
My oh my has Parker really struggled to fill the boots he left from last year. Barely a shadow of what he gave us last year. I understand he was out for a prolonged period this year but don't buy he's still not 100%. He is. His performances are just that of a 32 year old who plays a more defence-minded role. I've never felt Parker has looked comfortable on the ball. He stands out like a sore thumb at times when in possession. Whilst others look natural and in their element on the ball, you can almost see Parker's knees trembling - eager to shift it on as quick as possible. In this respect he's picked up where he left off from last year but looks more woeful. Him and Dembele almost look as though they're marking each other at times. Picking up the same space, ball watching on occasion and allowing Newcastle to have far to much possession in front of our back 4. There's a clear lack of understanding between the two that can only be built from experience through minutes on the pitch together.
We knew Sandro would be a huge loss, but the side have faith in one another. We've been injury-torn all season yet find ourselves in 3rd - at the time of writing - with 12 games remaining. We were in a similar position last year but in my opinion we seem to play with more belief and confidence this season. We're a shadow of our early games under AVB and this is all credit to the Portuguese and his backroom staff. AVB has shown immense belief in Clint Dempsey, despite a stuttering start to his Spurs career. He was the Woolworths of Tottenham Hotspur. I don't think he really knew the role he was suppose to play or what extra he was bringing the side. The American himself has really picked up his performance and is slowly but surely responding to the faith invested into him. Maybe I'm proving more biased but I'm becoming more of a fan. He's a great squad player to have with us. His turn to win the freekick for Bale's first was clever, his movement and interchanging with Holtby, Bale and Lennon was also smart. Those front 4 looked comfortable alongside each other without creating masses. Holtby still growing into the side and finding his feet.
Of course there's still room for improvement. Dawson seems to have some sort of disorder that disables his ability to pass the ball on the deck. Far to many long balls found their way into opposition possession when playing the game on the floor seem to be the simplest solution. Saying that, Bale's second resulted from a long-fielded knock so what do I know!
Gareth Bale's performance was a joy to behold although I enjoyed the quick pass and moving we undertook in the first 25. We looked organised and calculated before somehow losing the maturity in the middle and allowing Newcastle to put in a deflected second. We need more discipline in centre midfield. There doesn't appear to be a system between Dembele and Parker yet the latter should sit and allow the former to drive if the opportunity arises. I enjoyed our fluidity through Bale, Lennon, Holtby and Dempsey. All four seemingly exploiting their given free roles without creating too much. A lack of a forward here not helping but not holding us back I felt. Ade put himself about when he came on but struggled to get involved as much as
The game felt like a marathon but we made it over the line. I'm enjoying, at times, that we're not playing great but coming away with three points. It's what good/great sides do. I still find myself in awe at the level of transition we experienced in the summer yet the position we currently find ourselves in. AVB has brought in his own style and installed the prolonged belief in the players that we haven't seen for a while at Spurs. All we can do is focus on our own games and let the others around us do the chasing.
Ben - Follow me on Twitter here