Newcastle United’s rocky relationship with the FA Cup

The FA cup is one of, if not the most prestigious domestic cup competitions in the world so why do we so often see Premier League teams disrespect the historic tournament?

In recent years managers have complained of fixture congestion caused by competition and Liverpool boss, Jürgen Klopp even went as far as to delegate his managerial duties to Youth boss, Neil Critchley for Liverpool’s 4th round replay against Shrewsbury.

With that being said, no team in the last 20 years has shown the Cup more neglect than Newcastle United.

Steve Bruce’s men were dumped out of their second FA Cup quarter final in 14 years at the hands of Manchester City a week ago.

The Mike Ashley era has seen Newcastle reach the 5th round only once, this dismal period included acrimonious defeats against the likes of Scunthorpe and Oxford United which have lingered in the minds of many fans.

But, maybe, just maybe, 2020 was Newcastle’s year.

It would begin in the usual fashion with a tough away trip to lower division opposition, Rochdale A.F.C. After an impressive first half United faltered to a 1-1 draw and an unwanted replay at St. James’ Park, in which the home side ran out 4-1 winners.

It would also take two bites of the cherry to sneak past Oxford; a venomous Allan Saint-Maximin strike in the depths of extra time was enough to secure Newcastle’s trip to the Hawthorns for their first fifth round tie since 2004.

Bruce’s men established a 3-0 lead and did their best to throw, conceding two late goals, however they were just able to hang on to set up a quarter-final clash with Manchester City.

Newcastle fans had started to believe that the trophy may return to Tyneside for the first time since 1955.

Finally, Wembley was in sight, they were only 90 minutes away. There was, however one Geordie who seemingly did not hold such aspirations, and frustratingly that man was Steve Bruce. The Magpies boss made his motivations clear even before the game kicked off. He failed to rest vital players such as Miguel Almiron and Saint-Maximin in the home league fixture against Aston Villa only three days hence and the pair’s exhaustion showed.

In what was arguably Newcastle’s biggest game since their Europa League quarter-final against Benfica 8 years ago, Bruce did not select his first choice goalkeeper, Martin Dubravka. Some may argue that he was showing faith in Karl Darlow for his performances in the earlier rounds, yet it was Dubravka who was sent out to brave the cold against a spirited Rochdale side on the 4th of January. The Slovakian shot stopper has made countless vital saves during this campaign and one could very easily argue he would have saved Raheem Sterling’s effort that gave City their two goal advantage and effectively booked their place at Wembley.

Newcastle made a very sluggish start to the game with the majority of the side defending from within their own penalty area. When the ball did eventually fall to one of the United defenders a hopeful, misdirected hoof towards the hapless Andy Carroll soon followed. City were the exact opposite; short, sharp passes coupled with an intensity that United failed to match, this difference in ability was demonstrated by a stat which popped up on our TV screens after around half an hour showing that Newcastle had completed only 15 passes in comparison to Manchester City’s 188. Statistics such as these will not come as a surprise to supporters who have witnessed Newcastle play under Bruce.

Despite some heroic last ditch defending, Newcastle’s walls were eventually breached after Fabian Schär gave away a soft penalty which was ably converted by Kevin De Bruyne.

United came out after the break with more purpose and a hint of fluidity. The home side introduced Dwight Gayle who squandered a golden chance to equalise and soon after Newcastle trailed by two as Raheem Sterling found the back of the net with a well-placed strike from outside the area.

 With 22 minutes left in the game Bruce threw in the towel, and no attempt was made for a valiant dive toward Wembley and the semi-finals. Instead of making an attacking substitution, Bruce introduced two right backs; Lazaro and Yedlin. A mind boggling decision. Was he trying to defend the scoreline and avoid any humiliation?

Perhaps such a timid move would not have happened with 52,000 fans in the stadium to answer. The removal of Saint-Maximin was also infuriating and an admission of defeat. With twenty minutes left and two goals down, there was only one man who could have saved Newcastle United, Jonjo Shelvey. However, the man whose late strike secured a 2-2 draw against City in the league earlier in the year, was left to sit on the bench and watch his side slide pathetically out of the Cup.

Was Bruce hoping to protect his players for a long trip to Bournemouth on Wednesday night? As far as many fans are concerned, the season may as well be over. Once again the powers that be failed to recognise the will of the people of Tyneside.

Whether Newcastle finish 9th or 15th is immaterial, a higher place finish creates more money for the club but nothing for the fans. In a season where United had stumbled to a quarter-final place there was finally a feeling of optimism and the potential of a trip to Wembley, silverware and respect.

The attitude of the players and managerial staff last Sunday evening was almost beyond belief. The thousands of fans who tuned into BBC One had to endure the praise Martin Keown heaped on Manchester City and the certainty he had that it would be them, not Newcastle, who would progress to the semi-finals.

Bruce’s jovial response to the defeat has been publicised far and wide across the Twittersphere as he joked with City’s De Bruyne during his post-match interview, I am not so sure there were many Newcastle fans who felt quite so cheery so soon after the final whistle.  

Doubtless this display will be swept under the carpet, after all Manchester City are a far superior team and surely Newcastle were just happy to be there?

After years of tedium, Newcastle were finally playing in a game that meant something, a chance to win the FA cup, this was no longer about mid-table obscurity, it was about glory and a chance to repay the thousands that followed their side to Rochdale, Oxford and West Brom in the hope that something exciting may finally happen to their once great club.

It has been 66 years since United last won anything of note and if the unambitious Bruce remains in charge this wait will continue for many years to come.

 

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