NEWCASTLE: Newcastle United and Eddie Howe endured a Premier League reality check as they were torn to shreds by Antonio Conte’s Tottenham Hotspur.
Four second-half goals and a Magpies capitulation made it three losses on the bounce in the top flight on an afternoon to forget in N17.
Fabian Schar had given Howe’s men the lead — and it was a deserved one, too, but Ben Davies leveled things up before the break. Then goals from Matt Doherty, Son Heung-Min, Emerson Royal and Steven Bergwijn showed Newcastle that there are levels to this game in the top flight. And while Conte admitted pre-match that the Saudi-majority owners of United mean business, Spurs showed just how far the Magpies are from challenging not just the elite, but the group just below them, too.
Having had an international break and jaunt to Dubai to craft a team capable of competing at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, Eddie Howe made three changes to his side beaten, quite dramatically, at Everton.
Miguel Almiron was absent from the squad altogether, while Bruno Guimaraes and Emil Krafth dropped to the bench, the Brazilian an absentee due in no small part to his travels across the globe, and goalscoring exploits, with Selecao.
It is often the hope of a visiting side to catch Spurs on an off day, of which they have many, but Conte’s side eased into this encounter, playing with United’s compact unit at will, spreading from right to left and dominating possession in the Newcastle half.
Eric Dier, with a flicked header from a corner, and Harry Kane, with a low misfired drive, signaled Spurs’ intent early doors.
Having weathered that early storm, United began to find pockets of space and pressure of their own. Allan Saint-Maximin did his best to wind up the home crowd with some fleet of foot, and some gamesmanship to match.
Shelvey, back after a two-game absence, fired one at goal only to see the effort loop high into the crisp North London air, on the end of it, a man whose allegiance was of the red variety around these parts, Joe Willock.
His control, then flick around a home defender, jink inside another almost produced the piece of magic this game needed on the half hour. But, with the net ready to ripple, Cristian Romero produced a goal-saving block that kept things level.
But the balance of play soon switched from home to away with waves of pressure.
Willock was chopped down on the edge of the area and Schar stepped up to guide into the bottom corner, via a weak attempt to keep it out by Hugo Lloris. VAR did not intervene, despite the set piece appearing to flick off Chris Wood’s arm before breaking the deadlock.
As joy unbridled swept across the 3,000-strong away following, so the balance of this one shifted, yet again.
Maybe that goal was just what Conte’s men needed.
A recycled corner from the left by Son found its way to the head of Davies, who diverted quite brilliantly past the helpless Martin Dubravka. It took Spurs less than three minutes of second-half football to turn this one on its head.
And Newcastle were the architects of their own downfall.
A loose Schar ball across field gifted possession to Spurs, and Kane, having received the pass from Dejan Kulusevski, curled into a sparsely populated visiting area, with Doherty ghosting in past Manquillo to head in for 2-1.
Usually so disciplined and robust, the Magpies folded in less than 10 minutes after the break as two soon became three.
Kulusevski’s lung-busting break down the right ended with a pinpoint perfect pass to Son, and the finish was of the simplest nature for the Korean.
In an attempt to arrest an uncharacteristic collapse — well, in recent times, anyway — Howe threw on Guimaraes and Jacob Murphy. It did nothing to alter proceedings as Spurs continued to run riot.
Murphy, in fact, failed to stop Doherty’s cross as Royal squirmed home a fourth, beating Targett to delivery.
Willock, a fading influence much like the rest of the Newcastle midfield, did flash a header over the top, while at the other end Son curled wide when his second, and Spurs’ fifth, looked inevitable.
It eventually happened when Fraser, out of place now at right-back, played substitute Bergwijn onside and the Netherlands international wrapped this one up to sign off on what was a disastrous day for the Magpies.
As good as Newcastle have been under Howe — and there is no doubt they have made huge steps forward — this was as poor a performance as can be remembered. The second-half capitulation was as difficult a watch as anything seen under Steve Bruce, or the underfunded Rafael Benitez before him.
The substitutions, which arguably weakened United, and the disjointed, disorganized and seemingly ill-motivated Newcastle which emerged after the break, will 100 percent land at Howe’s door — and is exactly the reason why the head coach is refusing to claim safety is yet achieved.