An odd match between Newcastle United and Tottenham Hotspur marked Andre Villas-Boas' first game in charge. There had been some doubts raised over just how effective Spurs would be without Emmanuel Adebayor and Luka Modric, and although they managed a reasonable game against the Magpies, they were ultimately undone by a lack of cutting edge and some very naive defending in a 2-1 loss.
The visitors started the game broadly on top, helped by an early groin problem picked up by Newcastle midfielder Cheik Tiote. It looked as though it would be bad enough to force the Ivorian out of the game -- Vurnon Anita warmed up only to be sat back down on the verge of making his debut* -- but even though Tiote was able to play on he was clearly some distance from his best.
*He'd get it in the second half, coming on in the 71st minute for Yohan Cabaye.
Despite Steven Taylor's return, Newcastle's back line was very weak. With Fabricio Coloccini absent, James Perch partnered Taylor in the centre and Danny Simpson went up against Gareth Bale on the left, which had exactly the expected results. The defence looked panicked, and third band of Gylfi Sigurdsson, Aaron Lennon and Bale gave them plenty of problems all evening.
It was actually the hosts who had the best chance of scoring early, however, although it was mostly an accident. Papiss Cisse took the Premier League by storm last season following his arrival from SC Freiburg (he'd been busy taking the Bundesliga by storm prior to that), and he barely missed grabbing yet another goal here. That said, he'd have had basically nothing to do with it -- Demba Ba tried a very speculative long range effort that struck his compatriot in the foot. Brad Friedel was wrong footed and forced to watch in horror as the ball trickled just wide of his right hand post. It would have been an undeserved goal, but it was a massive letoff regardless.
Spurs had their chances too. Some brilliant interplay by Bale and Sigurdsson set Jermain Defoe free, and the centre forward did superbly to twist past Taylor before rattling Tim Krul's near post. The woodwork came to Newcastle's rescue again a few minutes later following excellent work by Aaron Lennon, who swung in a cross which Bale ended up nodding off the crossbar with the goalkeeper beaten.
Thanks at least partially to Tiote's struggles, Tottenham had complete control of the centre of the pitch to in the first half. But Alan Pardew made some changes at halftime, going away from the 4-4-2 and pushing Demba Ba over to the left hand side. That allowed the hosts to contest the centre a little better -- and it also resulted in the opening goal.
Yohan Cabaye and Hatem Ben Arfa exchanged passes in the centre before the former sprayed the ball out wide for Simpson. The fullback's cross was met by Kyle Walker, who completely failed to execute a proper clearance. Instead, the ball was popped up and fell to the grateful Ba, who allowed it to bounce before dispatching a brilliant half volley into the top corner, leaving Friedel completely stranded.
Tottenham attempted to recover, but about all they managed in response to Ba's opener was getting Pardew sent to the stands following an argument about whether or not Bale had kept the ball in play in the Newcastle defensive third. Spurs were allowed to continue despite the hosts having a clear case for a throw-in, a decision that incensed Pardew to the point that he shoved the referee's assistant and was rightly sent off for it.
But what Spurs needed was a way of getting back into the match, and forcing Pardew to communicate via semaphore wasn't going to help them much there. Rafael van der Vaart was Villas-Boas' answer. It turned out to be an effective one. The Dutch midfielder generated a slew of chances for Tottenham before the visitors were finally able to make a breakthrough, with Defoe able to poke home the rebound after Davide Santon forced Krul into a sprawling save to prevent what would have been an unfortunate own goal.
At 1-1, Newcastle were forced to go onto the attack once more, and it didn't take long at all for them to restore their lead. Just why Lennon and van der Vaart were left defending against Ben Arfa is more than a little bit unclear, but it came as no surprise when they screwed things up rather magnificently, allowing the midfielder to dart between them before Lennon brought him down. In the penalty area.
Having won the spot kick, Ben Arfa took it superbly, sending Friedel the wrong way and tucking his shot perfectly into the bottom left-hand corner. There were ten minutes left for Spurs to haul their way back into the match -- they'd been level for just four -- and that simply wasn't enough time.