Rather pointedly, Rafa Benitez refused to add to the brickbats being hurled Jonjo Shelvey’s way.
In contrast, Alan Shearer didn’t hold back, and with some justification. He had, after all, just had his birthday ruined by Newcastle’s serial idiot.
While the Spaniard tiptoed gingerly around Shelvey’s latest moment of madness, Shearer wasn’t so diplomatic, going in with both feet, rather like the stand-in skipper had in his needless assault on Dele Alli which irrevocably turned the tide against his side on a chastening reintroduction to the top flight.
Breaking off from celebrations to mark turning 47, Shearer took to Twitter to express the feelings of the majority of the 52,000 inside St James’ Park. “That is just pathetic, Jonjo Shelvey.”
After a case of new season, same old Shelvey, it was an apt description.
The temporary captain’s annual moment of madness arrived early, as a notoriously short-fused individual received a straight red card for treading on a prone Alli shortly after half-time, paving the way for a comfortable victory for Mauricio Pochettino’s side. The hosts had coped comfortably enough with a largely lacklustre Tottenham display up until that pivotal 49th-minute incident, but the numerical disparity soon told. Pochettino introduced Son Heung-Min to increase his attacking options, and almost immediately Alli, unmarked at the far post after recovering from Shelvey’s studs on his ankle, stretched to volley home a cross from Christian Eriksen just after the hour mark, beyond which point the outcome wasn’t in doubt.
The lack of protest from Shelvey suggested he knew his fate when, in attempting to pick Alli up as the England midfielder lay on the St James’ Park turf after conceding a free-kick, he inexplicably but very deliberately trod on his opponent under the nose of referee Andre Marriner, who was left with little option but to brandish red.
Having earned two red cards last season, one of them rescinded on appeal, Shelvey clearly isn’t learning from his mistakes. He recently claimed England were ‘crying out’ for a midfielder like him, a suggestion which seems laughable given this latest episode of brain disengagement.
His departure added insult to injury, with Benitez forced to replace injured defensive duo Paul Dummett and Florian Lejeune before half-time, the Spaniard’s suggestion Harry Kane’s challenge on his French debutant also merited red a failed attempt to divert attention away from the true criminal. “Jonjo knows he’s made a mistake and he’s apologised afterwards in the dressing room,” Benitez revealed.
“The tackle from behind by Harry Kane was the worst. I had to change one of my players because of it. It did look like a scissor challenge, yes. Watching the replay from the bench with the fourth official, it’s a surprise (that the player wasn’t sent off).”
Benitez wasn’t unstinting in his support of 25-year-old Shelvey. Asked if the former Liverpool and Swansea player will remain as interim captain should Lascelles fail to return to the starting line-up, he replied: “We will see in the future.”
The potential absence of the Dummett and Lejeune “for maybe two weeks or more” adds further urgency to the manager’s ongoing efforts to strengthen a squad whose limitations were ruthlessly exploited by a Tottenham side which didn’t need to reach anywhere near the heights it often scaled last season.
Ben Davies doubled the advantage from close range with 20 minutes remaining, nipping in ahead of Eriksen to thump the ball past Rob Elliot after some eye-catching approach play from Kane and Alli, who left the ground with his ankle in a protective boot, more a precautionary move than anything for Tottenham supporters to lose sleep over.
Spurs have so far been conspicuous by their absence from this summer’s transfer market, but for this 90-minute stroll, their failure to strengthen so far didn’t matter.
“Maybe, it’s an advantage not to have signed any players,” reflected Pochettino, able to see the funny side after such a comfortable afternoon. The Argentinian was rather more serious when asked about his ongoing efforts to strengthen his squad. “We need to sign some players before the end of the window,” he added. “It’s important to refresh the squad and create competition. It’s a 10-month slog and we’re involved in four competitions so we need more quality to keep the level that we want to show in every game.”
Elliot 7; Manquillo 6, Lejeune 6 (Mbemba 34, 5), Clark 5, Dummett 5 (Lascelles 8, 5); Hayden 6, Shelvey 1; Ritchie 4, Perez 4, Atsu 5, Gayle 3 (Merino 76, 6).
Subs not used:
Murphy, Aarons, Darlow, Mitrovic. Booked: Ritchie
Lloris 8; Walker-Peters 8, Alderweireld 8, Vertonghen 8, Davies 8; Dembele 8 (Winks 85, 6), Dier 6; Sissoko 5 (Son 58, 7), Alli 8 (Wanyama 82, 6), Eriksen 8; Kane 7.
Subs not used:
Janssen, Vorm, Wimmer, Carter-Vickers.
Andre Marriner 7
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