FA Cup still alive and kicking on Tyneside
Steve Bruce’s delight after Newcastle knocked Oxford United out of the FA Cup proves that the competition still has plenty of meaning.
After the original game ended goalless a St James’ Park on January 25, the teams faced each other at the Kassam Stadium on Tuesday evening and could not be separated after 90 minutes.
It seemed as though the Magpies would progress in normal time when leading 2-0 but Liam Kelly’s 84th-minute strike and a Nathan Holland volley deep in stoppage time meant an extra 30 minutes.
Penalties loomed large but Allan Saint-Maximin’s spectacular strike four minutes from the end of extra-time means it is the Tynesiders who will face a trip to The Hawthorns to take on West Brom on March 3.
On the same day that Liverpool controversially fielded an Under-23 side against Shrewsbury Town to a fair amount of criticism, the unbridled joy for the Magpies’ players, management and fans at the final whistle was a shot in the arm for the beleaguered competition.
Bruce pulled no punches in his assessment of the achievement, saying: “I know what it means for the city and the supporters, who have come a million miles to get here tonight, a couple of thousand of them.
“I think it is significant for the club to get into the fifth round for the first time since 2006.”
There is no question that the Premier League is, and has been for some time, the Holy Grail for clubs and righty prioritised, with relegation sometimes leading to financial catastrophe.
However, there is no reason why clubs such as Newcastle should not relish an FA Cup run and the increased exposure it beings as the tournament progresses.
While most of the big boys are still in this season’s renewal, there are a few from the lower leagues as well, with Derby County set to take on Manchester United and Sheffield Wednesday hosting Manchester City in round five.
Add to that League One outfit Portsmouth going up against Arsenal at Fratton Park and there is still enough ‘romance’ left in this year’s event to keep the neutral interested.
The north-east outfit may not go on to lift the trophy at Wembley in May but a march to the latter stages and possible match-up with a top-six side would be a boost.
Premier League survival, while not assured, seems likely and so the cherry on the cake for Bruce after his first season at the helm would be to see the Toon Army go into the summer with smiles on their faces – the cup can help achieve that aim.