Newcastle’s new owners were left with little doubt as to the task ahead of them as they watched a 3-2 defeat to Tottenham in a game delayed for 20 minutes by a medical emergency in the crowd.
In many ways, the result on a long-anticipated day was rendered largely irrelevant after players and fans looked on anxiously as medical crews battled to save the life of a spectator in the East Stand at St James’ Park during an eventful first half on the pitch.
With non-executive chairman Yasir Al-Rumayyan looking on, Callum Wilson got Steve Bruce’s 1,000th game as a manager off to the perfect start, but goals from Tanguy Ndombele, Harry Kane – his first in the Premier League this season – and Son Heung-min put the visitors in complete control by the time the break arrived.
Bruce’s hopes of hanging on to his job look forlorn – Newcastle have failed to win any of their opening eight league games and remain in 19th place in the table – and top-flight survival, as it was for much of the Mike Ashley era, has to be the sole aim for the immediate future.
At his pre-match press conference on Friday, Bruce had signalled his intention to stay exactly where he was and, having recalled the fit-again Wilson to his starting line-up, saw the striker make his mark within two minutes.
Allan Saint-Maximin deftly rolled the ball into the path of the over-lapping Javier Manquillo and Wilson got across his marker to head the wing-back’s cross firmly past Hugo Lloris.
If they were stung by the early setback, Spurs did not panic and gradually worked their way back into the game before launching a blistering response.
Ndombele levelled with a sumptuous strike from the edge of the box with 17 minutes gone and worse was to follow for the home crowd when Kane got the benefit of a tight offside call following a VAR review after running on to a ball over the top and lifting it over the advancing Darlow to end his league drought.
Saint-Maximin only just failed to get a touch on Wilson’s 31st-minute cross after linking well with Joelinton, with the Magpies shaking themselves out of a lacklustre period of play as the Frenchman and Joe Willock started to make an impact.
Lucas Moura was unfortunate not to kill off a renewed sense of hope when he got his head to Son’s corner and saw his effort come back off the crossbar, but with four minutes of a pulsating first-half remaining, the game was suspended after players alerted referee Andre Marriner to an ongoing medical emergency in the crowd and he took them off.
Sergio Reguilon spoke to the referee and asked for the game to be stopped, while Dier called for medical assistance from the bench.
Newcastle club doctor Paul Catterson sprinted across the pitch with a defibrillator. After the match, Newcastle confirmed in a statement that the supporter was “stable and responsive in hospital”.
The statement added: “The club would like to thank fans for their swift actions in raising the alarm and praise those who provided immediate chest compressions, as well as thanking the on-site medical professionals who swiftly administered emergency treatment using a defibrillator located close to the incident.”
#NUFC can confirm that a supporter who required emergency medical treatment during today's game at St. James’ Park is stable and responsive in hospital. 🙏
— Newcastle United FC (@NUFC) October 17, 2021
The game restarted after a 20-minute delay with the casualty stabilised and on the way to hospital, and Newcastle fell further behind during seven minutes of added time when Kane crossed for Son to slide home at the far post.
Bruce’s men returned facing an uphill climb and they found themselves chasing shadows as Spurs, led by the hugely impressive Ndombele, continued to dominate.
St James’ resounded to chants of “We want Brucey out”, which were repeated after substitute Jonjo Shelvey was dismissed for a second bookable offence with seven minutes remaining, with Eric Dier’s late own goal sparking fresh, but ultimately vain, hope.