NEWCASTLE: What a difference a year makes.
Newcastle United put one foot firmly in the Champions League by hammering Tottenham Hotspur 6-1 at St. James’ Park to open up a six-point gap to their top-four rivals — and with a game in hand.
The result comes a little over a year after Antonio Conte’s Spurs put lowly Newcastle to the sword 5-1 in London. How the tables have turned now. The Magpies blitzed their opponents, who are now looking up at Newcastle, rather than down.
Five first-half goals, two apiece from Jacob Murphy and Alexander Isak as well as one from Joelinton, ended this one as a contest. Harry Kane grabbed a consolation just after the break but Callum Wilson added his 11th of the campaign to put the icing on the cake.
Newcastle boss Eddie Howe made just the one change to his side, with Sean Longstaff coming in for Anthony Gordon. And the midfielder, along with the other five in United’s front six, was at it from minute one, in a far cry from the disappointing dip at Aston Villa.
In fact, it took the Magpies just 60 seconds to open the scoring.
Pedro Porro will have nightmares about the runs of Joelinton from the Newcastle left, and one such dart caught the Spurs wing-back napping as the Brazilian cut in and fired at goal. His shot was saved by Hugo Lloris low to his left but that palmed clearance only fell to Murphy, who hammered into the roof of the net.
Just five minutes later it was 2-0 — and this time the creator was the scorer.
A searching ball from Fabian Schar picked out Joelinton, who ghosted in behind Porro again, slipped around Lloris and tucked into the empty net.
In a blistering opening quarter the Magpies added three, four and five in very quick succession — and it was the often unsung Murphy who added another, before on-fire Isak bagged another two to add to the eight he claimed in his previous 10 starts.
The third goal came when Murphy lined up from 30 yards and with one swipe of his right, bamboozled Lloris, who did not even move from the moment it left the Newcastle winger’s boot.
It was four when Joe Willock, a contender for man of the match, played one of the balls of the season with the outside of his foot, opening up a clear run at goal for Isak, who slid past Lloris.
He got his second, and Newcastle’s fifth within the first 21 minutes, when a deft touch inside by the impressive Longstaff put the Swede in on a tight angle. But his form is such that tough situations matter little to Isak, who tucked in for 5-0.
And while it will be a 21-minute period few with associations to Spurs will want to watch back, the least comfortable viewer of reruns would undoubtedly be Lloris. It was far from a captain’s display by the French stopper, who was embarrassingly replaced at the break.
Spurs could not be as bad for the second 45 minutes — and so it proved. Some fight was shown as Kane bagged his 24th of the season with a left-footed effort down low past England colleague Nick Pope, but all resistance was ended when, within two minutes of being brought on, Wilson was found by fellow sub Miguel Almiron and it was six.
Many Newcastle fans will now be asking whether it is time to dust off the passport.
It is hard to see them finishing outside the top seven clubs to make at least a Europa League berth, but will they actually mix it with the elite?
Brighton are 10 points behind Newcastle with two games in hand in eighth, and Liverpool seventh some nine points away from the Magpies.
Wins at Everton on Thursday and against relegation-threatened Southampton on Sunday will bring the dream closer and the chanting louder as Newcastle close in on Champions League football.