For 45 minutes, Tottenham embraced the challenge of facing a side from the fourth tier by fielding five defenders, and a central midfield of Victor Wanyama, Mousa Dembele and Moussa Sissoko. Goliath thought he could turn up at David’s house in a blindfold with both hands tied behind his back and still emerge unscathed.
Mauricio Pochettino did try and force the situation at half-time; he pretty much had to. Newport had taken a completely deserved lead through Padraig Amond on 38 minutes, and Tottenham were staring down the barrel of an embarrassing FA Cup exit.
To see the Tottenham manager make a substitution after 45 minutes was quite the shock. The Argentinean has struggled with game management this season, failing to impact on matches with changes in personnel. To his credit, the half-time introduction of Son Heung-min did eventually pay dividends. The South Korean flicked on a late corner for Harry Kane to tap home.
Blushes were spared, but only just. Tottenham will depart south Wales knowing that they came so very close to a humbling on Saturday evening. A Wembley replay, and another fixture in an already busy schedule, is hardly a tantalising prospect.
But then Pochettino is simply reaping what he has sowed all too often. His dismissive attitude towards the domestic cup competitions has become a self-fulfilling prophecy: publicly tell your players that this is not your priority, and they will treat it with the same disdain.
Tottenham should still have had enough to overcome the hosts. This was a Premier League side facing one in League Two, a team preparing to play Juventus against one gearing up for the visit of Colchester. There are 71 places between these two sides, but there was little between them here.
Most alarming for Spurs was their lack of creativity. They had two shots on target to Newport’s three as Fernando Llorente toiled up front alongside Harry Kane. Christian Eriksen’s continued absence highlights just how important the Dane is to Pochettino’s system. There can be no direct replacement for his brilliance, but there should at least be a semblance of responsibility throughout the rest of the squad to try and take up his mantle.
Son was the only player who truly offered something dynamic when he was introduced at the break. Tottenham were turgid before then, trudging to defeat. Son is one of few players able to create something out of nothing. That he combined with perhaps the only other, Kane, for the equaliser was no coincidence.
Tottenham are unique when it comes to the Premier League’s elite. Arsenal have brought in Henrikh Mkhitaryan. Chelsea have signed Ross Barkley. Liverpool have signed Virgil van Dijk. Manchester City are hoping to bring in a £92m worth of talent. Manchester United have added Alexis Sanchez. Tottenham’s January has comprised of loaning out Georges-Kevin Nkoudou and a raft of youngsters. Five of the big six have used the transfer window to their benefit, but one is in danger of having it slam shut in their faces.
Nkoudou proved himself as not quite ready for regular opportunities in north London just yet, but he represents something Tottenham do not boast: something different. Kane, Eriksen and Son are useful in picking most locks, but it feels as though there is one attachment missing to this Swiss Army Knife.
If Tottenham truly did treat Lucas Moura to a tour of their training ground, they had better hope it is not his last visit. The Brazilian is precisely what Tottenham need: a proven commodity with fresh ideas. If Pochettino does not act this month, it could be another season wasted.