Tottenham needed to win this game, and they did it in a way that implies the fight for fourth place, if not better, is far from over. They moved into the Champions League spots, at least until Arsenal visits Crystal Palace on Monday night, and they left the pitch with the air of a team gaining momentum at the perfect time. There was little indication when Fabian Schär put Newcastle ahead, who looked cohesive and competent until halftime, that Spurs would then blow them away; yet, Antonio Conte’s men were unstoppable in the second half, making a mockery of early worries about the team’s structure.
Due to the injury to Sergio Reguilón, Matt Doherty was forced to play inside from left wing-back, while Emerson Royal, who has struggled to attack successfully for the majority of the season, was recalled to the right. The wide danger Conte seeks appeared a long way coming, but the doubters were proven wrong: Doherty gave Tottenham the lead with a superbly angled header after going infield, and he later teed up Royal, who had made his own foray into the box, for the fourth. It’s certainly your day when the previously goalless Brazilian scores, and Conte’s customarily lavish celebrations confirmed the significance of the moment.
Conte had only finished returning the ovation when substitute Steven Bergwijn topped the afternoon late on, sprinting on to a clever cross from fellow substitute Lucas Moura. This arena was vibrating towards the finish, a vast cry from the first 45 minutes, when Spurs were stodgy and lacking in players who could create attacking angles.
Newcastle had not set up to defend in deep or rush forward, but rather to probe at key periods. They came near when Cristian Romero crossed to stop a shot from Joe Willock before Son Heung-min made a sloppy challenge on the same opponent just outside the area in the 39th minute. Schär took one stride up to the ball and blasted it past Hugo Lloris, who looked to notice it late and might have done better. Newcastle deserved their lead at this moment, despite a VAR probe for a dubious claim of handball by Chris Wood in the wall.
Within four minutes, they had squandered it. Perhaps Son was on a mission following his performance in the opener: he earned a corner after a 50-yard dash along the left flank, then swung a second effort over after Eric Dier had returned his first. Ben Davies was on hand to skim a superb header past Martin Dubravka, and the game had gone from mediocrity to two goals in the blink of an eye.
Spurs had not been very brilliant in attack, scarcely generating a chance of note until the floodgates opened, but they had virtually won the game with two stunning goals just nine minutes after re-emerging from the locker room. They gained control early on thanks to a brilliant piece of play from Harry Kane, who used his muscle to get away from Newcastle’s central defenders before moving out to the right, initially at a meander, and sizing up a deep cross. Allan Saint-Maximin arrived too late to stop him, and his throw was flawless: it slipped past Son, who stuck out a leg, before bouncing for Doherty to show off his attacking instincts and nod an uncomfortable opportunity beyond Dubravka.
Doherty remarked afterwards, “The manager wants us to defend at the back post and be at the back post at the other end.” A player who had spent much of the season in the cold had kept both ends of the agreement.
It was a fantastic goal, but Spurs, who are looking slicker by the minute, quickly equalised. When Dejan Kulusevski played a give-and-go with Kane, who floated the ball into his run down the right side, a passing move from the back stepped up a gear. Son completed a superb cross from the Swede, which earned his fifth assist of his north London career. Son controlled the ball right-footed before scoring with his left. Conte sprang into a mass embrace with his teammates; it appeared to be a significant strike, and the play that had brought it about had been outstanding.
The surprise was not insignificant, given how Spurs had started the season. When Emerson found himself on the six-yard line after Doherty checked inside and crossed, the intensity level stepped up a notch. Emerson rushed in, making just enough contact with the post to squeeze inside.
Conte’s style of goal, wing-back to wing-back, and this had evolved into exactly the kind of performance he had thought this side was incapable of, as he eulogised at length afterwards.
Newcastle had long since exited the competition, as Howe demonstrated by bringing on Jamaal Lascelles to replace Wood. This was their biggest loss of the season and their third in a row, all of which have come on the road. They won’t go down, but Howe’s bosses aren’t likely to like too many more replays of a shambolic second half performance.
Son had a good chance to make it five minutes after coming in to replace Emerson, but he shot wide. Bergwijn, on the other hand, made no mistake two minutes later.
Conte could step onto the pitch at the end of the game to congratulate his players, later describing them as “a team with a football idea.” They’re starting to appear like a team with serious ambitions to compete in the Champions League.