Tottenham fall foul to draconian handball rule as Jose Mourinho's men pay the penalty for Newcastle misses

Dan Kilpatrick
·4-min read

Another day, another Premier League game dominated by discussion of the new handball rule and the role of the VAR after Newcastle pulled off one the most undeserving smash-and-grabs in the division's recent history.

The visitors somehow survived by the skin of their teeth before Callum Wilson equalised with a stoppage-time penalty after Eric Dier was adjudged to have handled in the box.

It was practically the last kick-off the game and cancelled out Lucas Moura's first-half strike. Jose Mourinho was angry he stormed straight down the tunnel, while his goalkeeper coach Nuno Santos appeared to be sent off after the final whistle.

Crystal Palace boss Roy Hodgson said yesterday the new handball is "killing football" and you had to wonder what Dier could possibly have done differently, other than challenge Andy Carroll in the air with his arms behind his back.

The handball rule, though, states that any contact with the arm below the t-shirt line in the box merits a penalty. Here, again, it felt a draconian and unnecessary rule-change.

(Pool via REUTERS)
(Pool via REUTERS)

It was a particularly grim decision for Spurs, especially given the way they had played and that a Newcastle player appeared to be offside from the original free-kick, which was also checked by the VAR.

Spurs made to pay for profligacy

It feels harsh on Tottenham to accuse them of anything more than rank misfortune but ultimately the hosts paid a dear price for their profligacy in front of goal. They finished with 23 shots to Newcastle's six, including 12 on target.

(Pool via REUTERS)
(Pool via REUTERS)

Karl Darlow continued a great tradition of Toon 'keepers playing wonderfully in north London, pulling off an early double save to deny Giovani Lo Celso and Harry Kane, and keeping out the England captain again before half-time with a superb one-handed dive to his left.

He continued to look sharp after the interval. Spurs also hit the crossbar twice through Heung-min Son, who was replaced by Steven Bergwijn at half-time, but could not find a second goal after Lucas stabbed in Kane's cross after 25 minutes.

VAR or not, new handball rule or old, at this level you always run the risk of dropping points without putting the game to bed and that's exactly what happened here.

It was a shame for Spurs, who played as well as they have done under Mourinho at home for long periods, but this was a lesson in ruthlessness for Mourinho's side.

Hojbjerg and Winks impress

It had been an inauspicious start for Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg. The Dane was dreadful in the opening-day defeat to Everton and struggled with his former club's pressing, as Spurs won 5-2 at Southampton.

(POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
(POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Holding midfield has been a weak spot for Spurs for at least two seasons and there is pressure on Hojbjerg to protect a creaking defence and provide a platform for the club's attacking players. Against Newcastle, the 25-year-old impressed at both.

Playing in a midfield two with Harry Winks, Hojbjerg made more successful passes – 96 – than anyone else at an impressive 88 percent accuracy. His quick and adventurous play was a big factor in Spurs' early intensity, which could have seen them out of sight by half-time.

Of those that completed 90 minutes, his passing accuracy was only bettered by the centre-backs and Harry Winks, who also had comfortably his best game of the season. As well as recycling the ball well, Winks made three tackles – more than any other Spurs player – and no-one in white regained possession more times.

All this praise should be caveated by the fact that Newcastle stood off in midfield, offering precious little in the way of resistance. Still, for both Hojbjerg and Winks, this game was a good example of how they can work in tandem against a certain type of opponent.

Dele absent again

The England international was hooked after an hour midweek. (Tottenham Hotspur FC via Getty I)
The England international was hooked after an hour midweek. (Tottenham Hotspur FC via Getty I)

Not only was Dele Alli left out of the 18 for consecutive League games, he was even overlooked when Moussa Sissoko pulled out of the squad shortly before kick-off, with Gedson Fernandes taking the ill Frenchman's place on the bench.

To be fair, Mourinho would have wanted to spare Dele the ignominy of being the 19th man but it increasingly feels like the 24-year-old's absence is about more than simply below-par performances.

Mourinho has ruled out Dele leaving Spurs this autumn but his treatment feels like a message to the midfielder and perhaps a reminder to the rest of the squad that Mourinho will not pick the team based on reputation.

With two mid-week matches to come, Dele will surely be given a chance against Chelsea, Maccabi Haifa or both, and the situation could quickly change. For that to happen, however, Dele needs to deliver.

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