Saturday 18th August 2012, heralded the dawn of a new football season, instilling a combination of anticipation, excitement, hope and fear in football supporters around the country.  Fans made their way down well- trodden paths to their respective stadia, enjoying the camaraderie, sunshine, banter and invoking the age old ritual and superstitions of wearing lucky items of clothing.

In Newcastle, fans made their way to St James’ Park (I refuse to use Mike Ashley’s branded name) having already seen a host of surprise results, including Arsenal’s inability to breach Sunderland’s goal line.  Well, whatever they can do to a North London team we can do better surely?

One of major talking points during the closed season has been whether Newcastle United can achieve a consecutive top five finish or even improve on last season. The key to answering this question will be whether the board will back Alain Pardew in the transfer market to strengthen the team and enable Newcastle United to compete in Europe as well as in the League. My first impressions of our activity in the transfer market so far are mixed. We have lost seasoned professionals like Peter Lovenkrands, Danny Guthrie, Alan Smith and Leon Best alongside a raft of youngsters. However, Guthrie, aside I don’t think that we will miss the players that we have allowed to leave, as many of them had fulfilled their potential at the club.  The real test will be whether we can find younger replacements who can take Newcastle United to the next level. My initial impressions of our dealings in the transfer market are somewhat mixed. Unlike last season, we have not made a host of major signings, having brought in youngsters such as Gael Bigirimana, Romaine Amalfitano and Curtis Good who will be expected to bed in with the youth team, before making a bid to join the first team. Our only major summer signing, Vurnon Anita, certainly showed some good touches when he came off the bench but we will definitely need to expunge our defensive frailties if we are to compete successfully in Europe, as well as the Premier League and cup competitions.

In terms of the game itself, my anxiety levels rose steadily during the first half as Tottenham controlled the tempo, and we continually misplaced passes, failed to get out of second gear and only had one half chance at goal (Ba’s 25 yard shot deflected narrowly wide by Cisse). Our players looked lethargic, particularly our midfield engine room of Cabaye and Tiote. However, this could be due to lack of match practice rather than anything more sinister. Danny Simpson, a player who has been much maligned by certain sections of the crowd showed several glimpses as to why he needs to improve his concentration, being rightly cautioned for one cynical tackle on Gareth Bale , and was arguably lucky to stay on the pitch after another mistimed tackle on the same player. One positive note from the first half was Hatem Ben Arfa who showed a fine turn of speed, combined with good close control and dribbling skills during two runs, before being taken out firstly by Jake Livermore and the Sandro. Both Ben Arfa and Gutierrez showed their commitment to the cause, but our front two, Cisse and Ba barely had a touch of the ball in the first half. However, Tottenham had far more clear opportunities to score and contrived to miss their chances, hitting both post and bar in the process. Therefore, during my half time cup of tea I was seriously contemplating our first defeat at home to Spurs in eight seasons, despite their lack of fire- power up front. The haunting memory of our 5-0 humiliation at White Hart Lane came to the forefront of my mind, especially if we continued to give Tottenham all the time and space on the ball that they craved. Alan Pardew’s team talk needed to invoke the Olympic motto harder, faster, and stronger into our players.

At the start of the second half we showed an improved period of attack, but the opposition continued to show a palpable threat going forward. Then the breakthrough came, and what a goal it was. Newcastle managed to string a series of passes together, Ben Arfa found Danny Simpson out wide, who hit a looping cross which was misjudged by Kyle Walker allowing Demba Ba to retrieve the ball, control it, and swivel and fire a swerving shot pass the despairing hands of Brad Friedel. However, there was still more than enough time for Tottenham to get back into the game and inevitably they did. They took a while to break our defence however, but in the 76th minute Tim Krul was unable to keep Jermaine Defoe out .Krul was unlucky as he could only palm out Defoe’s first attempt, a header which brushed off Davide Santon, back into the danger area where Defoe was the first to react., scrambling the ball in despite the presence of Steven Taylor on the line.

Luckily Newcastle did not allow their heads to drop, and three minutes later they had their reward as Ben Arfa’s continued determination culminated in Aaron Lennon tripping him on the edge of the penalty area. Ben Arfa duly converted the penalty, sending Freidel the wrong way and Newcastle were able to maintain their lead and claim victory. However, there was still time for some theatrics as Alan Pardew was dispatched to the stands for merest push on a linesman. He may not have upheld the Olympic spirit as he had implored his players to do in his programme notes, but he may wish he had pushed him a bit harder, faster and stronger if he does get a touchline ban following the outcome of his FA charge.

So what did we learn from the opening game? Firstly, it was a creditable result against a team who looked far sharper for large periods of the game and will certainly be in contention for a top four finish. Secondly, we need to improve our defensive qualities, and press the opposition in midfield before they get within shooting distance. Thirdly, despite the efforts of Gutierrez and Ben Arfa our midfield needs to improve its fitness to enable us to compete for a top five position. Lastly, we need to sign at least two new players to ensure that our squad is big enough to maintain a credible challenge in both Europe and back home in the Premier League and cup competitions.

So next stop is Greece, with a trip to Atromitos, where we shall see whether some of the younger members of our squad are able to follow their senior counterparts. But it is imperative that we keep our key players, such as Cabaye and Tiote in Toon and beware of Greeks bearing gifts.

By Rachel Horne