Son Heung-min was the last player off the pitch at half-time at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, not because he was busy pumping the badge on his chest, working the crowd or berating the referee behind his hand, but because he was exhausted, forced to spend 30 seconds or so bent double in the Newcastle penalty area with his hands on his knees.
Two minutes before half-time Son had picked up the ball 15 yards inside his own half and just flicked on the burners, feet pounding the turf like a boxer hitting the speed ball. It is genuinely rare to see a footballer streaking further and further away from his pursuers with the ball at his feet, dribbling faster than you can run.
Lewis Miley is a good mover, but Son just surged on, taking the ball 40 yards and playing a sideways pass that ended with Richarlison narrowly failing to score. Spurs were 2-0 up at that point. Son had made both of them from a rejigged position wide on the left wing, from where he traumatised Kieran Trippier throughout that lung‑burning first half.
Fast forward to 83 minutes and Son could be seen skittering through the centre, recast in the role of hyper-mobile No 9. Martin Dubravka brought him down. Son spotted the ball and spanked the penalty kick into the corner to make it 4-0 in a game that would finish 4-1 to Spurs.
It is worth dwelling on the numbers. Son is 31 now and in his ninth year at Spurs. The goal made it 10 plus four assists in the league this season. He’s closing in on 400 games, more than any other non‑British outfield player in the club’s history, Chris Hughton aside. This is an era now.
Son had been uncharacteristically blunt after the defeat by West Ham, singling out the failure of Spurs’ attack to drive the stake home. And there was an anger in his performance here, a relentlessness, a desire to just keep on coming, as Tottenham ended the game with 23 shots to Newcastle’s eight.
There were mitigating factors for the visitors, most obviously the fact the entire team are out on their feet. But the use of Son as an orthodox left-winger was also key, a shift of shape that helped to break the game open in that key period in the first half.
This is one of the slightly lost aspects of modern systems-play. A winger can have his full-back on his heels but, where a more old‑school approach would be to get the ball to that side as often as possible and gouge the weak spot open, teams will instead stick to their pre‑drilled patterns.
Twenty minutes can pass before another opportunity arrives to drive the advantage home. Full‑backs are rarely roasted. But Trippier was roasted here, as Ange Postecoglou started Dejan Kulusevski as a central attacking midfielder, and clamped Son to the left touchline.
The stadium was a lovely spectacle at kick‑off, with an inky-black sky above the vast industrial lattice roof, the golden cock dramatically backlit, Batman style, above the home end.
Spurs made all the early running and scored with 26 minutes gone, the goal made by Son veering in off the left touchline, chopping right then left, then nudging a perfect pass into the six-yard box where, naturally, Destiny Udogie, the world’s least full‑back‑ish full‑back, was lurking to score his first Spurs goal.
Son made the second goal too, taking a long diagonal pass that grazed Trippier’s head, jagging from side to side, waiting for Trippier to lose his balance, then surging inside and flicking the ball back for Richarlison to finish.
Newcastle altered the flow after half‑time. Miley and Trippier were a lot more aggressive in getting close to Son, blocking off the spaces he’d found in the first half. Still Spurs refused to take the air out of the game, breaking forward at speed whenever they recovered possession.
At one point Jamaal Lascelles was booked for holding on to the back of Son’s shirt with one hand as he rumbled after him close to the centre circle, skating along behind like Marty McFly hitching a hoverboard ride.
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Moments later it was 3-0, the goal made by a fine lofted diagonal pass from Pedro Porro, and finished by Richarlison.
Victory leaves Spurs in fifth, which feels about right. More to the point it puts a full stop on a dreadful run. There has already been a degree of Ange‑Anger, a backlash against the love-in, the Spurs‑as‑Woodstock dynamic. Nobody really likes a likable guy, not in football anyway. Where does this bloke get off, exactly, not seeming tortured or angry?
But to Postecoglou’s credit the performance here was also based around that slight tactical shift, a moment that reflects well on a coach who is, lest we forget, operating at a level beyond anything else in his career to date.
The Premier League is a vertiginously high level of competition these days. Do you really just run towards that danger, Bazball it, refuse to back down, even when backing down might actually be quite a good idea?
The most encouraging part of this win, like the point at the Etihad Stadium, will be that sense of flexibility.