As half-time beckoned, the start of Newcastle United’s new Saudi Arabian-led era and the sight of Tottenham’s Harry Kane scoring a rather good goal faded into insignificance. As Nuno Espírito Santo’s side prepared to take a corner, a spectator collapsed in the East Stand and the abiding memory of a rather strange afternoon on Gallowgate will be the sight of Sergio Reguilón telling his teammates to abandon that set-piece as he and Eric Dier alerted the referee to the emergency unfolding behind them.
Dier then raced to the technical area, demanding that someone bring a defibrillator, and his quick thinking merits praise. As Paul Catterson, Newcastle’s club doctor, ran across the pitch with the requested equipment, the seriousness of the situation sank in and an eerie hush descended.
Andre Marriner, the referee, took the players off the pitch as the spectator received treatment. When the welcome news emerged that he had been stabilised and was being taken to the Royal Victoria Infirmary, which lies in the shadow of St James’ Park, the game re-started. But the afternoon’s earlier joy and optimism had vanished.
Yasir Al-Rumayyan, the governor of Newcastle’s majority owners, cum non executive director of the club, had flown in from Saudi Arabia for the match. He looked quite emotional as, minutes before kick-off, he took his seat in the directors’ box and almost the entire stadium rose in unison to offer him a standing ovation.
The atmosphere was so electric that it could probably have generated sufficient power to keep the lights on across north-east England all winter. The record books will show that, in the second minute, Callum Wilson marked his return from a thigh injury by stealing in front of Cristian Romero and heading Newcastle into the lead. But it might have well have been sucked into the back of Hugo Lloris’s net by a home crowd high on adrenaline.
So too, it seemed at that point, were Bruce’s players. The goal arrived at the end of a gorgeously flowing move involving Allan Saint-Maximin playing a clever, short pass to the overlapping Javier Manquillo as Nuno acquired the expression of a man who feared a long, awkward, afternoon ahead.
For a short while Tottenham failed to react. Nuno’s team seemed a good half yard off the pace and looked in peril of being swept away by a tidal wave of black and white emotion. With the excitement almost palpable whenever Saint-Maximin touched the ball and the Frenchman’s team-mates passing and moving across the entire width of the pitch in a manner rarely seen in recent months, Bruce might even have fantasised that this was not going to be his last match in charge after all.
Then reality intruded. This Newcastle XI are not good enough to keep zipping passes slickly along the ground all afternoon, and sure enough they momentarily lost concentration. The slip in focus was sufficient to permit Reguilón to cue up an unmarked Tanguy Ndombele, who was afforded sufficient space and time to place an exquisite shot beyond Karl Darlow’s reach.
A little while afterwards, Harry Kane remembered that form is merely temporary and that class remains permanent. As Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg unleashed a through pass, England’s centre-forward checked his run just sufficiently to remain onside before flicking the ball past the advancing Darlow. Although Marriner originally disallowed the goal for a marginal offside it was rightly reinstated by VAR. Whereas Al- Rumayyan and his fellow director, Amanda Staveley had earlier been jumping for joy they now stared, deadpan, at the ground.
Sadly, concern was soon writ large on their faces after that medical emergency. Hats off to Reguilón, Dier and their fellow players for heeding supporters’ cries for help.
Once the unsettling 20 minute hiatus was over and a round of applause for the medics had faded, the ground felt strangely quiet. No one seemed to know quite how to react, or even if they still wanted to watch the game. Back on the pitch, Newcastle struggled to regain momentum and Spurs assumed near total control, emphasised when Lucas Moura used his quick feet to catch Isaac Hayden cold before finding Kane lurking in the penalty area. Unselfishly, Kane played a low pass across the six-yard box for the better placed Son Heung-Min to re-direct beyond Darlow.
Some two goal cushions are more comfortable than others and, for all Tottenham’s sudden, initially unlikely, dominance, for all their monopolisation of possession, they remained wary of Saint-Maximin’s shoulder dropping ability to change the narrative.
Yet even Saint-Maximin cannot win games single-handed and as the clock ticked down, the ground echoed to chants of “We want Bruce out.” It was not the way the manager had wanted to mark his 1000th game in management, but by the time Jonjo Shelvey, a second-half substitute, had been sent off for his second yellow card offence – a ludicrously self-destructive trip on Reguilón just outside the area – Bruce must have wished Newcastle’s owners had sacked him last week as originally planned.