A forensic analysis of Newcastle 7 Tottenham 1 in December 1996
‘It was not a very pleasant experience,’ said a visibly traumatised Gerry Francis after the game; the Spurs manager’s untamed power mullet looking even more dishevelled than usual.
Meanwhile, Terry McDermott, Kevin Keegan’s most trusted moustachioed deputy, suggested the score-line might’ve been doubled, had the North East side capitalized fully on their embarrassment of chances.
‘We are capable of winning our next eight or nine games in a row,’ McDermott declared, eager to counter any suggestion that they were a team that lacked consistency.
Newcastle had not won any of their previous seven games and were tail-spinning down the table and out of the title race.
True to his word, Newcastle did buck their ideas up in the new year.
The Magpies would go on to lose just two of their remaining 18 fixtures in the 1996/7 season, eventually finishing runners-up for the second consecutive campaign— another defeat to Alex Ferguson’s quite handy assemblage of academy graduates.
Beckham, Scholes and the gang picking up their second Premier League trophy since Alan Hansen’s infamous words of warning against daft romanticism.
You could, it turned out, win plenty with kids.
Despite Keegan’s title punch landing just short— duped again by his own credo of attack first; ask questions later —there can have been few more dominate performances in the modern era, than the one at St James’ Park that evening.
The night The Entertainers lived up to their moniker and Tottenham, well, if their nickname was God Awful Mess, they didn’t disappoint, either.
Remarkably, Keegan quit Tyneside just ten days after the demolition of Spurs. An almost symbolic bookend to his first spell at the club. In an ideal world, he might’ve wished for the goals to be spread a little thinner; what he’d have given to turn April’s draws against Southampton and Sunderland into wins.
But this is mid-90s Newcastle and moderation is a strange and unfamiliar term.
As we’ll soon discover:
Shearer breaks the deadlock
At odds with the Geordies’ reputation as expansive attack-minded gunslingers, it’s an unsophisticated long punt upfield that gets them going against Gerry Francis’ men.
Shaka Hislop’s goal kick travels a good 60 yards before it lands on the colossal mallet that is Les Ferdinand’s forehead, after the England striker had leapt above a young Sol Campbell.
From there it’s rather less rudimentary. Ferdinand’s flick-on drops neatly into a corridor of space which one-man stampede Alan Shearer just happens to be charging through.
Wor Al’ then loops the ball over an onrushing Stephen Carr, before he sends an almighty dipping half-volley beyond Ian Walker. Walker’s misery is complete when he looks down and realises his goalkeeper shirt has flowers on it.
1-0 to the home side.
Quickly followed by…
Three minutes later, Spurs concede again and there’s a theme developing. It’s another episode of calamitous defending from the visitors.
Following a rare moment of possession for Tottenham’s midfield, a quick game of Kick the Ball Into Your Teammate’s Face breaks out, perilously close to the away side’s penalty area. Spurs get themselves in a muddle and Toon are back in control.
Two swift passes later and Keith Gillespie finds himself with enough green grass in front of him to throw a garden party; certainly sufficient room to pick out a cross.
Ferdinand is the first to stab at the Northern Irishman’s lofted ball. Bouncing a volley into Stephen Carr’s midriff, the ricochet of which, drops to Peter Beardsley some ten yards from goal.
His shot is then directed past Walker by the medium of Ferdinand’s outstretched toe. Campbell is anchored to the line but can do nothing.
2-0 to Newcastle.
Ferdinand fires in for 3-0
By some miracle, Tottenham don’t concede a third until just before the hour mark. When Newcastle do find another breakthrough, however, it’s a familiar story.
Peter Beardsley gives Clive Wilson the slip and finds John Beresford in an ocean of space on the left. No one thinks to pressure the fullback— or even look in his general direction as a courtesy —and his curled cross is met by Ferdinand who bulldozes past Colin Calderwood to force in his second.
Ian Walker’s hair looks vaguely glorious as he hurls himself through the air but it’s meek consolation.
Newcastle are three up.
I’m not suggesting that Spurs have given up at this point, but you can’t escape the feeling that Newcastle’s fourth could’ve been prevented had Rob Lee not been allowed to stroll into the opposition’s box and shoot completely unchallenged.
In the entire phase of play, which covers some 70 yards, the grand sum of Spurs’ resistance boils down to Clive Wilson’s dangled right foot.
Phillipe Albert makes it 5
Having lobbed Peter Schmeichel so memorably in the Magpies’ five star dusting of Manchester United two months previously, it felt only a matter of time before the flamboyant Belgian joined the party.
It won’t shock you to learn that Spurs’ backline is desperately out of position by the time Albert receives Rob Lee’s pass on the edge of the box. And, to be fair to the North Londoners, they do keep a rigid line— it’s just a shame the line is an entirely vertical one. Truly unorthodox.
Ruel Fox courageously walks back to cover but Albert just smashes it under Walker and it’s 5-0.
Shearer scores again
David Batty wanders causally over to the right-wing and delivers a decent enough cross into the warzone that is Spurs’ penalty area.
Rob Lee slips over but it’s fine because no defender in yellow is awake enough to realise the ball is bouncing towards Alan Shearer at volleying height. Surely no danger could come of th—
One for luck…
Rob Lee joins Shearer and Ferdinand in the brace club. Yet another instance in which Newcastle apply just the lightest amount of pressure and Tottenham give the ball away in a blind panic.
David Batty could learn a new language in the time he’s afforded in the penalty area. Instead he opts to find Lee floating on the edge of the D and the former Charlton midfielder thumps in the Toon’s seventh of the evening. Carnage.
Hang on…is there a comeback on?
No, obviously not. But Spurs do eventually score and it’s a goal very much within their skillset. John Beresford, ever the showman, elects to juggle the ball in the box rather than attempt a first-time clearance.
Danish midfielder Allan Nielsen steams in and literally tackles the ball into the top corner. Nielsen throws a fist in the air triumphantly before remembering what had happened in the previous 88 minutes and pulls it down again. 7-1 to the Magpies.
The final whistle goes and Spurs’ misery is over.
This article originally appeared on Planet Football in July, 2017.